The Majestic Bald Eagle

by John Briggs on February 28, 2009

in Bird Photographs, Blog, Weekend Birding

Being in the right place at the right time makes a world of difference when bird watching.

Take this morning for example. Doing my morning ritual of filling the bird feeders, I saw a third year Bald Eagle soaring over the cove off our back yard. It was making passes within 50 yards of where I stood, so I headed back into the house to get my camera.

Returning to my vantage point, the Eagle was nowhere to be found. While thinking about making a homemade holster for my camera rig so it’s always handy and nearly ready to give up on the Eagle, I saw movement to my right. Coming from the narrows on the Winnegance Bridge side of the cove were a pair of adult Bald Eagles.

At first, the pair kept their distance, doing an in-flight courtship ritual. Diving and swirling around each other at a very high altitude, I watched in awe and silently hoped that they would get closer. Suddenly, the pair seemed to tumble earthward. I thought they had a collision! Just before crashing into the spruce trees on the other side of the cove, the pair split off. One came directly toward me, the other heading toward Doubling Point Lighthouse with American Crows on its heals.

It is very difficult to photograph a Bald Eagle screaming directly toward you. The focus is forever changing, even with AI focus tracking turned on. Suddenly the Eagle turned and I began firing away. In no time flat it was gone. I noticed my heart thumping in my chest. WOW!

As I went through the photos, The head on shots were awful. Should I have tried to change my angle? In doing this I risk spooking the bird. Maybe I better practice photographing birds coming head on. Most of my problem was that the cameras settings were set for a previous shoot that I did and in all the excitement, I didn’t make any changes. I did gather myself together enough to make adjustments when the Eagle turned.

I did a little research on the internet to found out what was going on with the pair. It seems that indeed they were falling toward earth on purpose:

Once attracted to a potential partner, the Bald Eagle may begin one of several elaborate courtship rituals called “cartwheeling.” In this magnificent display, the Eagles soar to dizzying heights, lock talons, and begin a breathtakingly death-defying plunge to the earth. Just moments before striking the ground, the eagles disengage and once again soar to the heavens. If the timing is not perfect, certain death awaits this pair of speeding bullets.

What a fantastic morning! Three Bald Eagles and a couple of decent photos to accompany the memories. If only that 600mm lens was a little more affordable, I might have photos of this ritual.


Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon 100-400mm IS L
Handheld with BushHawk

All thumbnail photos are clickable to bring up a larger view. Enjoy!

Bald Eagle in Flight | Bath, Maine

Bald Eagle in Flight | Bath, Maine


Bald Eagle in Flight | Bath, Maine

Bald Eagle in Flight | Bath, Maine

Happy birding!


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