Competition is Everywhere

For the most part, my bird photography seems “static” because birds are easer to photograph when they’re undisturbed, sitting in one spot. So, I’m always excited when I can catch them in action, like I did this shot on my second day at Seabeck before the real action had begun. This crow obviously thought this bald eagle was infringing on his territory and would have none of it.

crow harassing Bald Eagle

Here, they seem to be giving each other a piece of their mind, though the squabble didn’t end until the eagle decided it was time to do some harassing of his own.

Although some eagles seem quite adept at catching their own fish, their favorite strategy seems to be to scare a Great Blue Heron into dropping its catch so the eagle can take it. Some herons do just drop their catch and fly off, but others, like this one

Bald Eagle harassing Great Blue Heron

stand their ground, seemingly more than ready to defend their territory.

At times the herons almost seemed to be trying to intimidate the eagles, particularly when they were in groups.

Great Blue Herons stand their ground

Though I doubt the eagles were intimidated, I noticed that they did tend to harass single herons more than groups of herons.

Even the gulls tried to steal fish from the herons,

gull and Great Blue Heron

but it was clear that this heron was not going have its fish stolen by a mere gull, and the gull was more intimidated than the eagles ever were.

It’s easy to forget just how competitive the natural order really is, but a day like this makes it clear that natural competition is fierce even when, or especially when , a food source is plentiful.


Another reason I went to photograph the Bald Eagles in Seabeck was the hope of getting shots of them courting, shots I’d seen other photographers get there. I got one chance to shoot a sequence of two Bald Eagles courting, and the main thing I got from it was a new respect for the great shots I’ve seen other photographers capture.

Apparently many of the photographers who were there were hoping for the same shots because there was an excited buzz when these two eagles approached,

Bald Eagles

dove together,

 Bald Eagles

synchronized their flight, wings nearly overlapping,

Bald Eagles

circled and came back closer wing to wing,

Bald Eagles

and turned as if to grasp talons,

Bald Eagles

but never quite did so, or, if they did, I missed it, not entirely impossible because I was having a very hard time keeping them centered in my lens as I held the shutter down. You only get one chance for such a shot, and I missed it. But I was still grateful to get as many shots as I did while they flew off into the distance.

Bald Eagles

No wonder so many photographers return year after year for this event.

Eagles Fighting Over Sculpin

As noted in the previous entry, I went to Seabeck to see eagles in action, and I had a hard time capturing even a small part of the action the two days I was there. Although there were more than enough fish around for the herons and the eagles, many of the eagles seemed to prefer stealing a salmon from another bird rather than catching their own.

Though that quite often entailed harassing a Great Blue Heron until it dropped its catch, the eagles weren’t at all shy about attempting to steal a fish from another eagle that had caught one. I was a little surprised to see an immature eagle trying to steal an adult’s catch, though.

eagles fighting over fish

Sometimes it wasn’t clear whether a bird was trying to intimidate another bird or just get to an exposed fish before another eagle did.

eagles fighting over fish

Though it wouldn’t have been surprising to see an eagle startled enough to drop its catch as another eagle came hurtling down upon it,

eagles fighting over fish

more often than not it would merely fly away with its catch,

eagles fighting over fish

suggesting that most of the eagles had played this game before and weren’t about to be intimidated.

Photographically, though, the most exciting shots came when one eagle tried to steal another eagle’s catch mid-air.

eagles fighting over fish

As close as they came to each other, I didn’t see a single collision either day.

eagles fighting over fish

Judging how few fish were actually stolen from another eagle, it would seem that it wasn’t hunger that was driving these air battles. In fact, the eagles seemed to enjoy it almost as much as the lines of people stopped beside the road.

Flying With Eagles

Although I couldn’t quit taking pictures of the eagles sitting in trees when nothing else was going on, I didn’t go to Seabeck to take pictures of Bald Eagles sitting in trees; I can get lots of those by walking a half mile or so and sitting in Pt. Defiance Park until a Bald Eagle lands in the tallest tree. No, I went to Seabeck to get pictures of eagles in action. And I certainly got a lot of action even before the serious fishing actually began.

Because the road is up on a levy, you get a great chance to see eagles at eye level. It’s definitely a very different view of an eagle.

Bald Eagle

At times you even get the uncomfortable feeling that they’re staring straight at you, like this immature eagle was during as it made a loop right in front of me.

Bald Eagle

When you’re looking through a telephoto lens you can even get startled when they fly by so close that you can’t possibly get the entire wings in the frame.

They almost feel like they’re brushing up against you as they fly by.

 Bald Eagle

My favorite, though, is when they swoop down to pick up a fish or intimidate a heron or another eagle.

Bald Eagle

For a few hours I was flying with eagles, far away from daily cares.