As a photographer and amateur naturalist, I am happy to report that the bald eagle is doing quite well on our Mississippi Coast. I was born and raised in Biloxi but I spotted my first bald eagle in 2007 on the beach in Pass Christian. It was early in the morning, well before daylight, and I will never forget the excitement I felt as I came to the realization that the large animal standing on the shoreline was a bald eagle. To this day, the size of these majestic creatures still amazes me. This was around the time that I began to take photography seriously . Looking back, this first eagle sighting probably had a lot to do with the fact that I have been eating and breathing photography ever since.
Here are two of the first images I captured, not long after that first sighting. They are cropped and slightly grainy, but worth sharing just because they are bald eagles. They both illustrates the impressive size. Keep in mind that those pilings are 6 to 8 inches wide.
A few interesting facts about bald eagles. At age five they develop the distinct white head and tail. The only way to distinguish a male from a female is by size. Females are larger. Body length is approximately 36 inches and wingspan can reach 90 inches. Bald eagle nests have been known to exceed 2 tons. Impressive!
Photographically speaking, capturing images of these birds is not easy. I have heard stories that in other parts of the country they are numerous and can be quite a nuisance. Here on the Coast they are shy and elusive. More than once I have seen one along the beach, pulled my vehicle in a parking bay, and just as soon as I open the door, the eagle bolts! Frustration!! I, along with several other photographers (Alex North in particular) have taken quite seriously the challenge of photographing them and “nailing” that perfect shot. The chase is almost as fun as getting the shot. Almost.
I captured the following “in flight” while photo standing on the seawall at Pass Christian Harbor. I was chatting with a local fisherman and we were discussing bald eagles. I asked him if he had been seeing any lately when this beautiful adult came soaring toward us. Thankfully I was holding my camera with telephoto lens attached.
A few more, the first from Pass Christian, the second from Waveland, near the Silver Slipper Casino.
Though it is still not “the” shot, I captured my finest image thus far about a month ago in Gulfport along the beach. To my surprise, this particular eagle allowed me to walk within about 50 feet. As you can see from the bloody beak, it had just recently finished a meal. I was shaking as I moved in close. Never before have I been so thankful for the image stabilization feature on my Canon lens.
I think the lesson here is that if you want to even have a chance at getting a photo of a bald eagle, you just have to be out there shooting. You have to give yourself a chance. With a little luck, hopefully the images will get better and better. Stay tuned.
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