Herons and Bald Eagles

Great Blue Heron are by far the best fisherman to be found at Big Beef Creek, though fish are so plentiful during the sculpin runs that even crows and gulls get their fill. There’s no doubt Bald Eagles could easily catch all the fish they wanted to, but apparently they’ve found it easier to steal a fish from Great Blue Herons than catch one themselves.

Immature Bald Eagles seem to enjoy flying over a flock of Great Blue Herons just to harass them,

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but mature Bald Eagles don’t waste their time just flying over. They single out a Great Blue Heron that has already caught a fish,

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drive it off,

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land, and take off with their catch,

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ignoring any other herons in the vicinity. A truly efficient bully.

Crows and Eagles

Although it’s fairly unusual to see Great Blue Heron’s fighting each other, it’s quite common to see Crows and Bald Eagles act aggressively towards each other. In fact, one of the best ways to find raptors or owls is to listen to the crows who will often “mob” a predator that dares to enter their domain.

If there’s food to be found, crows will be there to claim their “share,” even if a Bald Eagle has already laid claim to it.

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Though I’ve never seen crows actually take food away from an eagle, they’ll certainly pester an eagle to the point of exasperation.

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It’s common to see a crow swoop down out of the clouds nearly atop an eagle.

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It’s less common to see an eagle flip over and try to return the attack,

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but apparently even the noble Bald Eagle has limited patience.

Luckily for the crow, the eagle can’t quite match its speed and agility,

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though I noted the crow decided not to pursue the eagle any further after it attempted to turn the tables on it.

Herons Fighting Over Fishing Spot

The stranded sculpin left after a high tide are so numerous that there is more than enough food for all the birds that show up at Big Beef Creek. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, there is an awful lot of intimidation that goes on. Usually it’s eagles that harass the herons to drop a fish, but it’s not unusual to see a Great Blue Heron chase other herons away from the area where it is fishing.

However, I’ve never seen an incident quite like this one. Two herons had staked out a fishing spot when a third heron flew in and quickly drove off one of the two.

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The other heron was having none of it, though, and stood its ground as the other one tried to intimidate it.

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It was hard to be sure, but it actually looked like the dispute came to blows

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and not merely a show of strength to intimidate a rival.

The jumping and flapping of wings went on for several moments before they separated.

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In the end, though, the “battle” ended like all the other battles I’ve seen here, with both combatants alive and well, though egos may well have suffered unseen damage.

Great Blue Heron at Big Beef Creek

I’m sure most photographers go to Big Beef Creek to photograph the Bald Eagles, but I would still go if there weren’t any Bald Eagles just to photograph the Great Blue Heron. Despite having hard drives full of heron shots, I’ve never gotten as good of shots of them as I consistently get at Big Beef Creek.

It’s one of the few places where you can look directly down on them as they fly to different fishing areas.

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You can get spectacular shots of them as they land.

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You can get remarkable closeups

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because they are solely concentrating on the fish near the shore.

It’s also one of the few places where I’ve ever managed to photograph them displaying,

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making it clear that this is their fishing hole and other herons had better keep away.

More Bald Eagle Shots

I have a habit of taking up and dropping hobbies at a fairly high rate. My INTP personality, lately changing to an INTJ, it seems, thrives on new challenges. Photography is one of the few hobbies I’ve managed to stick with for many years, and I’m pretty sure it is because it is one that constantly presents new challenges and one I will never master. Part of the challenge is constantly adapting to new equipment and new technology, but the bigger challenge is capturing the right moment. That seems especially true in wildlife photography.

The gathering of birds at Big Beef Creek in June offers a perfect opportunity to develop skills and the potential for a great shot. Sometimes the light hits birds from just the right angle and you get a perfect exposure.

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Of course, the best shots are action shots, and to get those you need to follow the eagles as they catch fish,

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but it’s much harder to control the light since you seldom know where the eagles will fly in from, nor where they will decide to eat the fish they’ve caught.

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This should probably have been the best shot of the sequence — it’s certainly my favorite “pose” —

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but what little light there was coming from behind the eagle and there’s no way to pull more detail from the wings.

Of course, the eagle did fly overhead and behind us to feast on his catch

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and the light, and exposure, was nearly perfect.

Luckily, I seldom worry about these things while shooting, especially if I have no control over them. All of the amateur photographers I hang out with simply ooh and aah when the birds swoop by with their catch. Any frustration I have with the shots tends to take place sitting in front of the computer, long after the experience itself. That’s why when passer-bys ask me if I got “any good shots,” I say that I won’t know until I get home and can see them on my computer screen.

It’s frustrating not being able to control all the variables, but it is probably what makes shooting wildlife so addictive for me — that and learning my many mistakes.