“First-ever Photo of a Bald Eagle at
White Rock Lake”
I was the first person to photograph an eagle at White Rock Lake. Ever. Yeah, amazed me, too.
It took all of 14 seconds, and the whole series is below on this page, but first is an eagle who just caught something in White Rock Lake, which is a big deal, because it seemed to mean it is hunting at White Rock, not just visiting. Then it flew to its fave perch in Sunset Bay to eat it. I hope you can tell that I got better photo equipment and a lot more practice photographing birds in the five years between these two eagle shots.
Another eagle sighting in September 2014 is near the bottom of this page.
Eagle in Flight at White Rock Lake Saturday Morning
October 4 2014
A friend and I were talking not long ago about how difficult it is to select one's own best work. I expected to fold this one in a little later, because it was probably too far away to render well with my lens, which is known for its high resolution but also for its inability to render after about 300 yards out, but I don't know how far this is, although it gets better as the eagle flies closer. So please excuse text that may appear to be going in several directions today. I have been, also.
In my first, rather soft photo of it, the eagle was flying much higher, but as it neared the far edge of the lake, it flew closer to the water.
I keep hearing that Eagles' favorite White Rock Lake menu item is the American Coot, whose population has, in the last week, increased more than 15-fold, counting only their constant presence in Sunset Bay proper. Y
I usually rely on chronological order of images to tell their own stories. Here I am backing up, to show the moment when the Bald Eagle entered our consciousness. I say our because I was with an eagle-eyed bird photographer whose name, I believe, is Amole.
Amole saw the eagle just before he announced it was entering our space (White Rock Lake) just as he had the Cooper's Hawk and the Red-tailed Hawks who proceeded it, and whose photographs follow below. I thanked him aloud for the first one, and he continued. We enjoyed great conversation. He said he lived an hour's drive from here, but visited often, and he spoke knowledgeably about this lake and its wildlife, where he, his wife and child often visit.
Note that between the last two photographs, the eagle appears to have picked up some baggage. I'm still not utterly convinced it was a fish, and I'm wondering if I managed to miss it snagging a coot, which even at this distance, could have been amazing, and I'll keep one eye on that far shore every time I visit Sunset Bay.
* In Bird Chat, the Dallas Audubon's online birders forum, Ben Sandifer pointed out, "The most important thing [I] have documented is that the bird is actively feeding at the lake. In the past, everyone thought the eagles were just passing through. Documenting the feeding is a huge leap in why the bird is there hanging out." I should, however, point out that other photographers have photographed the (assuming there's just one) Bald Eagle eating something on its favorite, far perch in Sunset Bay, images of which are near the bottom of this page.
The top picture was at least twice the size of this eagle in this photo when I photographed it, and it enlarged much better than this, because, I assume, it was close enough for the lens to do its dada duty.
Then on the Monday following I went back among my eagle blurs once again to find this.
Do you suppose that after doing this for eight and a quarter years, I'm actually getting better at this bird photography thing? Or maybe I'm just getting better models….
The Wylie eagle did not just fly straight into where it planned to enjoy its meal, it circled in and around clutching its bounty.
Pelicans, I'm told, are too big for an eagle in normal circumstances to bother eating. Coots and cormorants, maybe.
After it landed and had been eating awhile, Amole and I conjectured whether it would be closer — and less pelican cluttered — if we moved west along the Sunset coast to where there's a break in the trees, but neither of us moved. We just kept shooting. I later photographed the far-out logs from across the bay at Dreyfuss, and it's a lot farther than it appears in these photos, so once it's landed, I may well trek out into that boggy place and try it.
Fuzzy because they're rendered out of focus, all of which was centered on the Bald Eagle Landing with a "Big Fish," though it might well not be a fish at all.
Facing away from prying human eyes and cameras, the eagle ate awhile, then quickly brought its head up to look around in case there was somebody big enough to grab it and make off with it. Old habits die hard. I had my camera on a tripod, which made stationary shots like this easier, and birds flying shots like many others up and down this page, more difficult. After looking silver, gray and/or black, its prey now appears to be white with maybe some black feathers — although most of the catfish I have eaten over the years was also white. It doesn't look like a fish, although it's had several large, eagle-sized bites taken out of it, but it's had its life squeezed out of it by those big, strong talons.
My first shot of the eagle across the lake was taken at 11:42:05 and the last at 11:54:22, when it was still eating lunch. If I'd been thinking straight, I would have waited for it to fly away, but I thought I was in a hurry.
Bald Eagle at White Rock Lake
January 27, 2009
Too cold to photograph birds today. Way too cold. So I bundled in five layers and drove to the lake. At the top of Winfrey I looked down and all around, as usual. Carefully, ever hopeful. Eventually, I saw a lump on the top of a distant tree well off to the left.
This full frame is as close as I got with my 750 mm (in 35mm equivalence) telephoto — not close enough for good detail, but this is a special case. The rest of today's photos are enlarged greatly from this approximate framing.
When I saw the white head at that significant distance, I immediately thought eagle. Big, puffed out eagle in the cold. Then I remembered our friendly neighborhood Osprey, that I'd hoped to keep seeing. It looked enough like that that it might have been, and it was certainly more likely it were an Osprey than a Bald Eagle, so I settled on calling it Osprey for about a week.
Then, Dana emailed saying that someone on the Dallas Audubon Bird Chat had seen a Bald Eagle in the Old Fish Hatchery area Anna calls "The Fitchery," and that I should recheck my I.D of what I had called Osprey. So I looked at photos and drawings of Ospreys and Eagles, and I went back to what I had originally thought, but I still couldn't believe.
In fact, I still have difficulty thinking that what I shot that cold day was a Bald Eagle. I was really excited for a couple days, and then I'm in a disoriented state of belief mixed with disbelief.
This is the best of the day's shots for identification or detail (not much), although some of the other shots are also informative about other parts. Note the side of this bird's face. Ospreys have a dark stripe back from its eye, level with its beak. This one doesn't, but two of my January 20 Osprey photographs do. So I was right about that sighting, and initially so wrong about this one.
Wow. A Bald Eagle at White Rock Lake!
Special thanks to reader Dana for
emailing me about my error.
My vision of the Bald Eagle was brief, only a few seconds. Almost as soon as I started shooting out of Blue's (my 1990 Honda) window, the bird decided it needed to be somewhere else, perhaps more secluded. Apparently it has managed to stay away from prying birder eyes for at least a week — from my photographs January 27 to Wayne Cherry's sighting in the Fitchery February 2.
I'm pretty sure the eagle didn't see me, since there were at least three other cars in the hilltop parking lot, and they'd been there awhile, engines running because it was so cold. So cold, in fact, I'm wondering if our white-tail-feathered friend came down in the big Blue Norther that brought us that cold, cold weather — hitching a ride on a big wind as migratory birds often do.
Hardly anyone was walking around the lake that day. I only saw maybe seven cars total. And five humans walking or running, three die-hard runners (oddly enough fully dressed) and one bundled-up couple who got out of their car laughing, walked down the slope about forty feet, then came scuffling back in a big, cold hurry.
Osprey's wingspans are 4.5 to 6 feet. By comparison, an American White Pelicans' wingspans are up to 9 feet. A Bald Eagle's is 5.5 to 8 feet; and a California Condor's is an inch longer than a pelican in some books, equal in others.
At first I thought this shot was just too much — a big, poofed-out in the cold bird showing mostly its rear end. That's when I thought it was just an Osprey. Now that I know it's a Bald Eagle, why not?
Then it was gone. I walked all around Winfrey hoping to find it in another tree, but I saw no more big bird bumps that day. This photo series started at 3:17:02 pm Tuesday January 27, 2009 and ended at 3:17:16.
Elapsed time 14 seconds. Or maybe I might have got better photographs.
No Pelicans this time, but there was
a Bald Eagle in Sunset Bay Today.
September 16 2014
Jennifer Luderman called me on August 7, saying there was a Bald Eagle in Sunset Bay, and as I did this morning, I dressed quickly and whipped The Slider there as quickly as I could without attracting police attention. But it was gone by the time I got there that time. This time, when Anna Palmer called me from the pier at Sunset Bay, I was quicker, and the eagle was much farther out on the farthest log in the outer bay. I wished I'd brought my tripod down from the car but started clicking right away, just in case.
Gradually, as I focused in on it and could see I needed to wait till it turned away from face out across the lake, I got more and better shots. But even my backs-of-its-head images this time were better than any from my first encounter with a Bald Eagle not so far away on Winfrey Point, January 27, 2009. I was the first to photograph a Bald Eagle at White Rock Lake, if for only 14 seconds, but somebody else got a decent shot of it on a cell phone since, but these are way better than my previously only-ever, other Bald Eagle sighting nearly six years ago.
Would loved to have caught it catching a meal, but it was done with that, and back to where it'd been seen since Jennifer L. called. I'm so pleased to have seen and photographed it (maybe again). What a lovely gift from the Universe. And to have got this close to focus hand-holding my 500mm, 7+ pound lens, is spectacular. I posted this photo a couple days later, but it's probably the last good one I can add.
There was another eagle encounter between the September 16 and October 4, 2014 eagle sightings that involved a whole bunch — at least a half dozen, sometimes more, photographers photographing probably that same eagle out at that same roost.
Always more birds (but not as many eagles) on The Current Journal page.
Have you seen Nature, the public TV show's longish vid of Bald Eagles? It's gorgeous.
Check out our newly updated White Rock Lake Map for exact locations mentioned on this page.
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text and photographs copyright 2009 and 2014 by J
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Thanks always to Anna.