Yesterday morning there was some highly unexpected excitement on Antelope Island.
As per my typical track record with Golden Eagles the resulting images of the incident range from mediocre to poor due to crappy light angles, being too far away, poor timing and the use of a short lens while my 500mm is being worked on but I did document much of what happened and more importantly I witnessed it. What fun!
It all began when I unexpectedly encountered this Golden Eagle near a parking lot on the north end of the island. It remained in place long enough for me to maneuver my pickup to get a few shots before it took off and dropped over the ledge behind it. I’ve seen two Golden Eagles on the island several times recently and I wondered if the other one was nearby.
It was! Both birds landed on some rocks in good light but much too far away for my “pea-shooter” lens, the 100-400mm zoom, though I was able to document two corvid species harassing the eagles. A couple of Common Ravens let their displeasure about the presence of the eagles be known…
by repeatedly swooping in close to them.
But the Black-billed Magpies weren’t too happy about the situation either. At one point there was about a half-dozen magpies on and above the rocks. Occasionally a few of them got close enough that at this distance it almost looked like one of the eagles could simply reach out and snatch a magpie. Another photographer got out of his vehicle and approached the birds so eventually they took off but the light angle and distance wasn’t helpful for quality flight shots. We left the area, hoping to encounter the eagles somewhere else on the island later in the morning. We did, but I should set up that encounter for my readers first.
As I crested a hill and drove around a bend we spotted a flurry of activity up ahead. An eagle with a jack-rabbit in its talons had just taken off with a group of several coyotes in hot pursuit. Jack-rabbits are heavy prey and it’s difficult for a Golden Eagle with a rabbit to gain much elevation quickly during take-off (something I’ve witnessed many times growing up on the Montana farm).
By the time I got fairly close one of the coyotes had the rabbit and was skedaddling through the mullein with it. Though I didn’t see it actually happen (sadly, I miss a lot of things as I drive and maneuver) I believe that the pursuing coyotes got close enough to the eagle as it attempted to gain elevation that the bird deliberately dropped the rabbit in self-defense. The bird you see in the background in this image is not the one that had been carrying the rabbit – this is the second eagle, who defiantly stood its ground as the coyote ran by just a few feet away. The coyote isn’t very sharp because my autofocus locked on to the moth mullein in the foreground.
The coyote crossed the road in front of me in poor light and going as fast as it could run with the heavy, awkward rabbit flopping around in its jaws. Other coyotes weren’t far behind but a few remained and continued to harass the eagles.
The eagle that had apparently killed the rabbit was already perched out of frame to the right when this one landed nearby.
When the coyotes saw where the eagles had landed two of them took off after them…
so the eagles left the area as the coyotes approached them. The coyotes at left are difficult to see – their cryptic coloration is working well. As usual, several nosy magpies joined in the fun. I should mention that soon after this shot was taken we spotted a third Golden Eagle in the area.
I’m in 7th heaven when I’m lucky enough to witness events like this, even when I’m unable to get quality photos of what goes down. I was really bummed to not have had my 500mm lens to record all the excitement but as I reviewed my images I reminded myself that with the longer prime (non-zoom) lens I’d have missed some of the wider views of the interactions between several species and individuals.
And there is some good news. Yesterday I was notified by Canon that my 500mm lens has finally been shipped! I’m hoping it will arrive today and that they were able to identify and fix what was causing my focusing issues.
PS – Sorry about the lack of image techs below each photo. With these longer posts I often simply run out of time. All shots were taken at f/8 with the Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and 1.4 teleconverter.