Golden Eagle – This Is How You Stick A Landing!

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such an impressive demonstration of power in flight from a bird. And then this eagle pulled off a spectacular landing.

 

1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Yesterday morning in Box Elder County I had been photographing this juvenile Golden Eagle on top of a cliff when it suddenly flew down at a steep angle and landed in the grasses far below. It was a long distance from me and buried in the grasses so when it looked like it wasn’t going anywhere for a while I stowed my gear and began to drive down the road to look for other birds.

But wouldn’t you know, the eagle chose that moment to take off and land on the cliff again (it’s a cross between a cliff and a small mountain, I’ll call it a cliff). In this image the cliff is out of frame to the right and from this starting point it’s an extremely steep angle for a bird this size (up to 10 lbs and a 7 1/2′ wingspan) to fly directly up to the top of the cliff.

I didn’t even consider the possibility that the eagle would attempt it.

 

 

1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

But that’s exactly what this huge bird did.

By the time I got my lens on the eagle again it was already half way up the mountain. Partly because of the unexpectedly steep angle I had a difficult time keeping the bird in frame and in focus so most of these shots were either too soft or clipped. But I wanted to include this one to demonstrate the steepness of the climb (no, I didn’t rotate the image to make it look even steeper than it was).

The goal of the eagle was to land on a small outcropping near the top of the cliff.

 

 

1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender,  not baited, set up or called in

Here the eagle is approaching that outcropping on the right.

I love this landing posture for many reasons – including those huge, outstretched feet and talons and the tail spread at an angle to show us the beautiful white markings of the juvenile. I do wish this image was just a little sharper (I had to apply more sharpening to the bird during processing than I like to) but I won’t complain too much…

 

 

1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, canvas added for composition, not baited, set up or called in

Two frames later the eagle touched down.

 

 

 

1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

And in the next photo the bird has landed (“The eagle has landed”… 🙂 ).

I like to scroll back and forth between this image and the previous one to see the dramatic demonstration of how those legs have been used as a shock absorber for the impact of landing.

For me it was a jaw-dropping experience to watch the power of this huge bird as it climbed at such a steep angle to reach the outcropping. That angle would be one thing if the eagle had time to build up more speed for the climb, but it didn’t – it had been too close to the cliff when it started for that. So the power of the ascent was simply amazing to watch.

And to climax it all with such dramatic landing postures was just about more than I could bear, in a good way…

Ron

 

 

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Rough-legged Hawk In flight (and a depth of field mystery…)

Occasionally I take a photograph that seems to defy (my faulty?) logic. And when that happens I probably spend more time pondering over it than I should.

 

1/3200, f/9, ISO 320, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, canvas added for composition, not baited, set up or called in

This Rough-legged Hawk image is a case in point. I photographed the bird earlier this month at Farmington Bay WMA not long after it took off from a tree. I like the position of the right wing, the fanned tail, the even light on the bird and the good look at that distinctive dark “wrist” on the underside of the wing.

But every time I look at the image I wonder why the trailing edge of the right wing is so soft. At this shutter speed it must be a depth of field issue rather than motion blur but at f/9 and without the use of my teleconverter I should have ample DOF so it doesn’t make any sense to me. The tip of the right wing, the body and what we see of the left wing are all sharp and it appears to me that the trailing wing edge has to be at some intermediate distance between the right wingtip and what we see of the left wing. So how can that trailing edge be so soft?

All this made me wonder where my focus point locked onto the bird so I did a little sleuthing (any guesses where the focus point is?)

 

 

I loaded the full-frame image into Digital Photo Professional (software that comes with Canon cameras). Using DPP I can show all 65 focus points available on the Canon 7D Mark II. As usual I only had five of them active (the five I’ve marked with a blue “bull’s-eye”) and the focus point that locked onto the bird when the photo was taken is outlined in red. That explains why the wingtip is sharp but if the left wing and body are also sharp (and they are) why isn’t the trailing edge of the right wing sharp? I still don’t get it!

Many of my readers are smarter than I am when it comes to the principles and physics of photography so any insight would be appreciated.

I’m probably going to be embarrassed by an easy and obvious explanation but at least I’ll have an answer…

Ron

PS – We finally have the possibility of a few hours of light this morning so I’m going shooting. I’ll respond to any comments/questions when I get home.

 

 

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