Milpitas Bald Eagles–Lessons Relearned


Storyline:

Bald Eagles and Ospreys are making a comeback around the San Francisco Bay. Recent environmental regulations, the 1960s movement to “Save The Bay”, and the ending of DDT and other pesticides have made an impact. They are now fish, particularly Striped Bass in the Bay, for these raptors to feed on. The parents also bring them ducks and other waterfowl, and ground squirrels that inhabit the canals around the south bay.

My goal was to capture a recently fledged Bald Eagle in flight. This juvenile eagle was born this year with another chick in a nest in a large redwood tree. This was the fourth year that the parents had nested in this redwood tree. The nest is in a grove of redwood trees in front of the Curtner Elementary School in Milpitas, CA. This location is on the southeastern side of San Francisco Bay.

There were 50 photographers around the July 4th weekend. However, it pays to get there early. I have been getting up at 4:30 AM to be at the location at 6:00 AM. Few photographers were this early.


This morning, the juvenile, named “CORONA” or its sister named “COVID” circled the nest and the group of redwood trees. The first pass was just before the rising sun hit high up on the top branches. These images lack life and the eagle subject was dark. During the second pass around the trees, the first rays of light hit this juvenile bald eagle. The light changed this fast, fast as it took time for another circle. I got the forward circular thrust of the wings, the call and cry of the juvenile, and just a touch of the first rays of sunlight!

Many of us have been going to this location for a few years. The comradery, the getting to know each other better, have filled in the boredom of waiting for the parents to come back with food for these juveniles. We wear our masks and practice social distancing. Sometimes it’s hard to hear each other through the masks. It’s something we all have gotten used to in the world of Covid-19.


We have a lot of feelings for these two sisters’ bald eagles: Covid and Corona. It seems they might make it on their own. I haven’t been there since Friday, because they are ranging farther afield and the photographic opportunities are less and less, as they move away from the safety of the nest. I might check in there tomorrow morning and see how they are doing. It was incredible to see them soar for the first time; they used the thermals to go high into the sky. These juvenile bald eagles just need to learn to hunt on their own, and they too like their parents can grace the skies of the south bay.


Lessons Relearned:

1) It was hard tracking the eagles, even though they are big birds. I relearned that I need to make sure my lens’ distance focusing range setting was set to the “distance” setting of 16 mm to infinity, for focusing farther away. Limiting the focusing range was key to locking focus on the flying eagles. This way my camera did not have to go through the whole focusing range of the lens and “hunt” for the subject.

If I am in a blind shooting birds at close distances, then I set my focusing range on my telephoto lens to the minimum range of 5.5 meters to 16.2 meters (For A Canon 600 mm f4.0 IS lens). I adjust the focusing range depending on the photographic situation and how far my subjects will be from me. For the eagles flying at distance, I set the lens focusing range to 16.2 meters to Infinity. My auto-focusing tracking was much better, and I was more able to stay focused on the eagles in flight.

2) I also change my focusing setting in my Canon 7D Mark II camera body, specifically the AF tracking and locking on the subject settings after purchasing Glen Bartley’s 7D Mark II guide. With these new settings, my focusing locks on better and gains focus quicker. Therefore, more quality keepers. These are the settings he recommends for the Canon 7D Mark II. Yet the principals apply to other Canon models and other manufacturers’ camera bodies.

a) Tracking Sensitivity: If the AF point is tracking one subject and see another, how will it respond to the new subject? It’s best to stay “locked on”, set tracking sensitivity to “-1” or “-2”.

b) Accelerating/Decelerating Tracking: Set to “0” for steadily moving subjects. Set to “1” or “2” for subjects that have more stop-start characteristics.

c) AF Point auto-switching: How fast does the camera switch from one point to another point as the subject moves around the frame? If using over one point like Zone AF or Expand AF, for Birds in Flight, it’s best to lock early on the subject and hold focus as the bird approaches, set to “0” or “1” if using Expand AF area with 4 points. For small birds with erratic flight, using Expand AF area with 9 points, use a setting of “2”. So, if the camera’s focus loses one point, the AF focusing can switch to another point easily. *


3) Getting up early and seeing this gorgeous early morning light jogged my memory and brought home the realization that low angled early morning and late evening light is sweet light. This light can make an image glow with beauty. Being a primary factor and the difference between a good image and a great one. As a night person, I am discovering the treasures of getting up early!


*AF Tracking Information in 2a, 2b, 2c came primarily from Glenn Barkley’s Canon 7DMark II camera guide. You can purchase here for $5.00 http://www.glennbartley.com/Canon7DmarkIISetupGuide.html

Author: Dream Catcher Images

Nature, Bird, and Wildlife Photographer Mission Statement: Restore your life’s essence, experience a child-like wonderment and reconnect your spirit with our mother earth. My mission, as the owner of Dream Catcher Images, is to create beautiful photographs that hauntingly sing to one’s heart of the earth and its magnificent wildlife. Through this imagery, a sense of awe about the sacredness of life is shared and communicated to the image viewer or a workshop participant.

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