Bald eagles have always amazed me. My first encounter was when I was 17 and visiting my sister at her British Columbia island cabin. I had taken her one-person sailboat out into a small harbor and was just floating along when an eagle swooped down and grabbed a fish from the water. I still can envision its talons flexing and then locking into the fish. It seems like it was ten feet away from me, I’m sure that is my memory glorifying the event, but I think of it often.
Today as I was driving from Vermont to New Jersey, heading south on Route 7 just north of Bennington, VT., when a large bald eagle appeared in front of me. Surprise doesn’t quite explain my reaction. You’d think eagles would be fairly common in Vermont, but they’re not. In fact, Vermont was the last state in the U.S. to have a pair of breeding eagles. There are lots more eagles in New Jersey. Go figure.
The eagle was flying low and I watched as it landed in a tree that I had just passed, right along the road. So I quickly became that crazed driver you hate on the highway. I pulled off as an 18-wheeler beared down on me, I did a quick U-turn in front of oncoming traffic and parked about 200 yards from the bird.
I grabbed my camera, put on a 70-200mm lens with a 2X teleconverter and decided to slowly walk toward the perched eagle. Critters seem to know the human shape and eagles are pretty skittish but sometimes they don’t understand what is slowly coming toward them if the shape isn’t really humandoid and it can’t see a face. So I held the camera to my face as I slowly took steps. It took me 10 minutes and my arms were getting tired but without lowering the camera I was able to get within 20 yards of the tree. I’m extremely respectful of space in nature and while I wanted to get closer for a better picture, I didn’t want to disturb the eagle or make it think humans are a threat.
As I’m shooting, I heard another large bird calling to my right. I couldn’t tell what it was but it wasn’t another eagle. It must have been a crow. It did make the eagle anxious and it quickly took off. I grabbed some shots as it flew back around me. I noticed another car had stopped behind mine but the people didn’t get out, I appreciate them respecting what I was doing. The eagle made a circle and looked like it landed deeper in the woods. I waited a few minutes but then resumed my trip with a special smile on my face.