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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Cedar Waxwing with Berry

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all the photos I’ve taken in the last few weeks and am having a hard time narrowing them down. I still went back to Big Beef Creek and the Bloedel Reserve on Wednesday because I’d much rather take pictures than sit at a computer looking at them or finishing them for posting to the web.

However, I knew that I would post this photo

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the moment I took it. I also knew that it would probably be my favorite shot of the day even if it wasn’t an eagle or heron.

Eagle Stealing Great Blue Heron’s Catch

Although I wouldn't expect Mary to sit through hours of birding at Big Beef Creek, I returned right after she left because I wasn’t satisfied with the pictures I had taken on my earlier visit. Photoshopping can never take the place of sunshine.

I was much happier with pictures taken on the second attempt, though I didn’t think the action was as exciting as on the previous visit. I particularly liked this sequence showing an immature Bald Eagle stealing a fish from a Great Blue Heron.

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Apparently the Great Blue Heron have learned to drop a fish right in front of them when an eagle approaches. I missed that part of the sequence but caught it just as the eagle was about to grab the fish.

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The heron certainly wasn’t about to give up its catch without a fuss.

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It even seemed to lunge at the immature eagle,

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but the Eagle hardly looked back

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before taking off with the fish.

EgleAtck6 Temporarily defeated, the heron immediately went back to trying to catch another fish.

Where Was I, Now?

Leslie and I just got back from a week-long birding trip to Malheur and Bear River, and I’m finding it tough to get back to blogging. (If you commented on this site last week I didn’t reply because I didn’t have internet access.)

Luckily, I had blog entries to refer back to. As I noted before, the lighting was less than ideal for my first trip to Big Beef Creek, but I still loved this sequence of two immature Bald Eagles chasing each other enough to post it here. Truthfully, I'm not sure it would’ve been better even with ideal lighting because the circling Eagles would’ve been in the shade part of the time no matter where the Sun was. Still, photographing two birds as they swoop and dive while chasing each other is too much of a challenge for me to resist. Hopefully, this series of photos conveys some of the excitement I felt while watching them.

It’s difficult to capture the beginning of a chase like this with so many eagles flying back-and-forth. But this is where I picked it up.

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More often than not, though, when two birds get this close together

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you know they’re interacting — though it’s not always clear whether they’re flirting or simply trying to intimidate each other.

When they’ve circled this closely together, the chase is definitely on.

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Then all you have to worry about is keeping both of the birds in focus, not an easy thing to do with a telephoto lens,

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though it’s easier when they’re as close as this.

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When the lower eagle looked back like this, I wondered if they would lock talons, a common courtship ritual.

If one of the birds was courting the other, it obviously failed because they never locked talons.

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I really didn’t see the fish showing in this shot

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until I started processing them on my computer. After seeing the fish it seems one eagle was simply trying to steal the other’s catch and the victim was having none of it.

I was amazed by the eagles’ maneuverability.

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I would have thought that the action would have stopped when one of the eagles caught the fish as it was falling,

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but the action got even more intense in the moments afterwards.

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It even continued into the nearby trees, though it appeared from my viewpoint that the two were in imminent danger of crashing headlong into the trees.

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I’m still unsure of why the eagles were acting this way. It would have been a lot easier for the eagle pursuing the other eagle to have simply used his energy to steal a fish from one of the many herons — which is what other eagles generally do who don’t want to bother catching their own. With fish simply lying on the beach as the tide moves out, this kind of violence to steal a small fish seems nearly incomprehensible.