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by Stan Tekiela
May 29, 2023
I am often asked what is my favorite animal to photograph. They want me to answer with one distinct and definite favorite critter. Time after time I disappoint them by saying my favorite wildlife to photograph tends to be whatever I happen to be photographing at the time. I haven’t met any animal that I didn’t find amazing. It is often like asking a parent which child is your favorite. You love all of your children and I love all of nature.
However, I feel there are some critters that are easier to capture stunning images than others. For example, I photographed a large snapping turtle one time for a book project I was working on and no matter what I did I couldn’t capture a decent or worthy image for the book.
Recently I spent 10 days in Alaska leading a photo tour to capture images of our national symbol, the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Now this is a wonderful example of a bird/animal that is hard to take a bad picture. It seems that just about anyway or anyhow you photograph this spectacular bird, the images always turn out to be stunning and award winning. There is just something special about Bald Eagles when it comes to photography.
When I look back at the last 40 years of my career as a wildlife biologist, author, educator and wildlife photographer, in the beginning there weren’t many Bald Eagles around. The population of the Bald Eagle tanked out in the mid 1900’s. Due to widespread habitat loss, as well as both legal and illegal shooting or trapping, and the widespread use of DDT, which caused the eggs shells of the eagle to be so thin the eggs couldn’t be incubated without the parents breaking the shell, the Bald Eagle were nearly wiped out.
In the early 1900’s it was believed that Bald Eagles would grab the legs of domestic animals such as lambs and cows and even human children, leaving them severely injured. Of course, this wasn’t true at all, and so Bald Eagles were shot by the tens of thousands all in the misguided belief in a falsehood. By 1978 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that “the leading cause of direct mortality in both adult and immature Bald Eagles was illegal shooting”.
In 1967 the Bald Eagle was declared an endangered species. Amendments to our laws in the 60’s and 70’s increased penalties for violators and more importantly in 1972, DDT was banned from use in the United States. DDT was later banned in Canada in 1989. By the late 1970’s and early 80’s it was estimated that only 100,000 individual eagles existed. So, over the past 40 plus years, the population of Bald Eagles has started to rebound and now it’s not uncommon to see these magnificent birds on a regular basis. The Bald Eagle was removed from the Endangered Species list in June of 2007, and it continues to do well. Today there are an estimated 320,000 eagles.
The state of Alaska has the largest and most stable population of Bald Eagles in North America. So it is only natural that is where we would go to capture some stunning images of these incredible birds. We spent 4 days on a small boat cruising around the back bays looking for eagles with an eye towards some beautiful backgrounds.
Each day we would meet the boat just before daybreak. We would take a 30-minute boat ride across the bay to search for eagles. We located several hundred eagles, who in mid-winter tend to hang out together looking for food. There were so many eagles that it became a problem to decide which eagles and in what background we wanted to try and capture some images.
With the new mirrorless cameras, I am able to take 20 to 30 images per second. This is a good and a bad thing because each day I was taking over 10,000 images of Bald Eagles in pursuit of just the right image. Taking this many images allows me to search through a series of images and find just the one with the wing and body in the perfect position as it snatches fish from the ocean. This kind of image shows the power, strength, and grace of these beautiful birds.
So here I am, weeks after the trip and I am still editing and witling down the more than 50,000 images of Bald Eagles, but also looking back at all the wonderful opportunities we had. The time it takes to edit these images is well worth it. If you are interested in going on a photo trip to Alaska for eagles check my web page. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.instagram.com, facebook.com or twitter.com. He can be contacted via his website at www.naturesmart.com.
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
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If so, contact Stan at email@example.com with your backyard wildlife. If he can get a good photo of the subject, he will send you a print of the photo to hang on your wall.
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For thirty years, professional wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela has counted on Hunt's Photo and Video to provide him with professional photography equipment.
From tripods to camera bodies and lenses, Hunt's has been Stan's place for everything that he needs. Personal service and prompt shipping means Stan can count on Hunt's to support his professional wildlife photography career.
Professional Wildlife Photographer Stan Tekiela always uses Feeder Fresh in his seed feeders to help keep the feeders and food dry, clean and mold free.
He also uses Feeder Fresh Nectar Defender in all of his hummingbird feeders. It safely keeps nectar fresh longer.