Bald Eagles at Big Beef Creek

Photographers go to Big Beef Creek this time of year to get shots of Bald Eagles and Great Blue Herons. I’ve been there twice so far and have managed to get a few nice shots of Bald Eagles, but so far there seem to have been far fewer Bald Eagles than in previous years. On our last visit I didn’t see a single juvenile Bald Eagle and only saw five or six mature Bald Eagles.

Most of the shots I got were of this pair of Bald Eagles

who showed up early and stuck around only long enough to fill themselves up.

This eagle caught its own fish rather than stealing it from the Great Blue Herons.

I use the word "caught" cautiously, though, because the sculpin was stranded in shallow water and the eagle swooped down and swept it up.

It was a still a thrill to have it swoop so close in front of me that I could see the mud on his tail feathers.

The only other sequence I caught was this one of a Bald Eagle flying almost straight at me

before veering off to my right and flying over my shoulder.

Though I liked these shots I was disappointed at how few Bald Eagles there seem to be, and particularly that there didn’t seem to be a sing juvenile eagle. The older Bald Eagles have learned to get food with the least fuss whether by harassing a Great Blue Heron into dropping a fish or just picking a stranded one off the beach. Immature Bald Eagles, on the other hand, seem to enjoy harassing the older eagles or harassing the herons simply to be harassing them. Like human teenagers they crave action, just like wildlife photographers.

Bald Eagle Catching Fish

I’ll have to admit I have so many shots of Eagles sitting in the trees around Big Beef Creek that I usually ignore them after they’ve landed, but I was bored enough at the beginning of this visit that I took several shots and got the chance to see this Bald Eagle swoop down and pick up a fish.

The sun even peeked through the clouds long enough to provide some excellent light for the short time this took.

Anticipation

After our trip to Bottle Beach, I decided I needed to check out Big Beef Creek near Seabeck to see if the sculpin run had begun. Since the run is tide-dependent, I checked when high tide was and thought I would need to be there around 6:00 A.M. When I got there, clouds covered the sky, and the sun was having a hard time breaking through. In other words, the lighting sucked.

I still couldn’t resist taking photos of the Great Blue Herons who lined the shore who seemed as eager as I was for the action to begin.

I always get some of my closest shots of the day in these early hours before the tide goes out very far

because the herons were right below me at the mouth of the creek.

Once the Great Blue Herons start fishing, Bald Eagles fly in to see if they can steal a meal.

Occasionally the sun broke through the clouds, providing some of that early morning glow that can make pictures really snap.

I have a bad habit of always arriving long before I need to and I’m working on overcoming that, but being the first one there isn’t ALWAYS a bad thing.

Logan Birds Big Beef Creek and Seabeck

Logan, Leslie and I were greeted by several photographers and even more Great Blue Herons when we arrived at Big Beef Creek at 5:40 AM on June 30th. High tide was nearly two hours earlier and the Great Blue Herons had probably been fishing for nearly an hour by that time. Remembering all the times my father had gotten me up before sunrise so we could be on the water at sunrise, it was probably ideal fishing for the herons.

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If there had been more light, fewer clouds, and the herons had been a hundred yards closer, it would have been a perfect photographic opportunity. As it was, we were treated to quite the show as the eagles swept in repeatedly to steal fish from the herons. Unfortunately, there was so little light that even if you could manage to pull a little color into the photograph there was so much noise that most of the shots were not salvageable.

An hour later, with the sun higher on the horizon, I was able to get a few shots that captured some of the action — if I adjusted them in Lightroom and didn’t crop them too tightly.

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Luckily things turned better when we finally moved up to Seabeck around 8:00 AM. Even with the lack of sunshine, we were close enough to get some pretty good shots. This immature Bald Eagle flew in to greet us.

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Logan seemed to be having a great time,

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which made the 4:30 wake-up worthwhile, no matter how few shots might turn out. Leslie and Logan also spotted these Harbor Seals hanging out below the wharf, one of the few times I’ve ever seen them with more than their head out of the water.

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The main attraction here, though, are the Great Blue Herons which gather at the fishing hole just behind Barbie’s (closed) restaurant.

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They gather here just before the tide goes out enough to reveal a small pool where the Sculpin seem to get trapped in larger numbers than anywhere else. If you’re lucky, you get to witness the intimidation the herons use to claim the spot.

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If you’re unlucky you miss the best shot of the day because one of the herons jumps right out of the frame. My consolation is that Logan, standing further away, managed to capture the whole scene (which I posted quite awhile ago) with my older, far-less-expensive gear .

Back to Big Beef Creek

One of the reasons I hesitated to return to Bear River was that it was right in the middle of the Sculpin run at Seabeck and I was afraid the run would be over before we returned. While it had slowed down considerably, it was still taking place when I returned at the end of June. It turned out to be a beautiful day, and I got some great shots, shots that, unfortunately, looked a lot like shots I’d gotten there before I went to Bear River. When you return to the same spot year after year, it gets harder and harder to top the shots you’ve already posted.

My favorite shots of the day were shots of Cedar Waxwings, shots I posted the day I took them instead of a month later. Even if the shots you get are no better than ones you’ve gotten before, it’s hard not to learn more about the herons and eagles you’ve observed. I’ve learned even more by talking to the photographers who get up there even more than I do. I’m nearly as fascinated by the complex interaction of the Eagles and the Great Blue Herons as I am by their beauty.

At the beginning of the day’s run, the herons will be quite spread out. However, once Great Blue Herons start to gather in a particular area, you can count on the eagles beginning to show up, too.

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The heron on the left in the above shot has just caught a large Sculpin, and it’s not long before a mature Bald Eagle swoops in.

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Often a juvenile eagle will follow the mature eagle.

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Notice that the heron on the left drops its catch as the eagles approach. Some herons look like they’re ready to defend themselves, while others immediately take off. Others. like spectators in Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts” turn “away/Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may/Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,/ But for him it was not an important failure

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Notice that the immature eagle just flies through the flock, apparently unaware that there is even a fish to be had.

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The experienced Bald Eagle, however, usually gets the fish dropped by the heron and feeds on it while the angry herons stand impotently around or fly off to a safer fishing hole.

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Purple Martins at Seabeck

Purple Martins may not be as impressive as Bald Eagles or Great Blue Herons,

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but I never go to Seabeck without trying to get pictures of them. Usually, I try to get a shot of them flying, but I’ve only managed to get one or two shots of them doing that because they’re a “swallow” after all — that was when strong made them float mid-air. So, I content myself with getting shots of them sitting on the railing or perched on the rod that holds nesting boxes, like this shot of a female Purple Martin.

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It’s the male, though, that I try the hardest to get a shot of. I’m always amazed by how big

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and purple they are.

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