A Golden Eagle, A Yellow-bellied Marmot And Mating Swainson’s Hawks

A trip to the Promontory Peninsula two days ago yielded mixed results.


1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Yellow-bellied Marmots are similar to but more colorful than Groundhogs and they prefer higher elevations and more rocky habitats than Groundhogs do. This one poked most of its body out of a crevice in some large rocks and watched me for some time but it never did reveal his/her entire body. Despite that fact this is now one of my favorite marmot images because I like the setting so much. It’s perfect habitat for the species and for my tastes it’s aesthetically pleasing to boot.

Eventually it disappeared into the crevice and I drove on down the road.



1/2500, f/6.3, 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

47 minutes later I had this beautiful Golden Eagle in my viewfinder. I like the background and the rocky perch but I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the tail, legs and feet so I was hoping for takeoff and flight shots but Lady Luck (the bitch!) had other plans for me. I looked at my screen for about half a second to check my exposure and the eagle chose that exact moment to take off so I missed the flight shots I wanted so much.

Missing them was my own damned fault and I’ll tell you why. The eagle was on a large rock that has often been used as a raptor perch in the past but the rock is just past the top of a hill (when you’re coming from the south, as I was) and can’t be seen until the last second after you round a curve at the crest of the hill. Usually when coming from that direction I drive very slowly until the rock comes into view so I won’t flush any raptor that might be on it.

But on this morning my mind was elsewhere for some reason and I was driving too fast when the rock (and the highly unexpected eagle) came into view quite close to the road. My sudden appearance and abrupt stop had the eagle immediately on edge. The bird only gave me a couple of seconds for a few preliminary shots before it took off and I chose that exact moment to check my exposure. I’m pretty confident that if I’d rounded the curve and approached the rock slowly the eagle would have given me more time with it and I’d have had a much better chance to get the takeoff/flight shots I wanted so badly.

You’ve gotta pay attention when you’re photographing birds!



This mating pair of Swainson’s Hawks is one of the reasons I usually approach that rock much more carefully. One summer several years ago I photographed either or both of these birds on the same rock many times so it’s my habit to round that curve on the hill much more slowly and carefully.

I’m usually a creature of habit but I just spaced it out this time and I paid the price.





29 comments to A Golden Eagle, A Yellow-bellied Marmot And Mating Swainson’s Hawks

  • Charlotte Norton

    Lady luck now wihthstadning Ron, your shots are marvelous!


  • Laura Culley

    LOL! (And yes, insert the ridiculously redundant string of superlatives here beginning with OH WOW! And that’s why the golden is so elusive. They don’t like humans much and don’t trust us as far as they can throw us. Knowing you know better than to approach that perch at a more respectful speed, I’ll chime in with been there, done that–have the t-shirt! Now if the eagle had been dining on the marmot you might have had more time 🙂
    And YAY for new Swainson’s coming!! YIPPEE!

  • Wow, Ron!!! A busy and productive day!!!!

  • Sigh on the missed shots. Multi-tasking is a cow. And Lady Luck is more alert than we are. Often. I see her saying nyeah, nyeah as she outwits us again.
    Love the marmot and the gorgeous setting.

  • Alice Beckcom

    The Marmot is like a picture postcard with such beautiful colors. The eagle is grandeur and the Swainson’s hawks amazing.
    I like to drive fast too!!! It is hard to drive slow!!

  • Ron Blanton

    Great shots and good lessons, we all have those moments when we multi task away from the camera and …. poof. Good work though, thanks for sharing.

  • Marty K

    I’m still jealous of the shots you did get. Even a bad Golden shot is a great one!

    I totally feel for you, though. I have ‘brain farts” far more often than I care to admit. (I wonder if Di-Gel makes a mint for *that*!)

  • Dick Harlow

    Love the Marmot shot and agree with the setting, background, colors, sharpness, etc. That is not to say the other two aren’t just as great, but I have to admit I’m partial to the Marmot just like I was to your Weasel shots a few years ago.
    Especially enjoyed this post because you posted your errors, that I seem to do ALL the time. Drive too fast to get to a spot where I saw the bird yesterday and go wizzing by while a Short-eared Owl is flying close to the road! Dum, slow down. I could go on and on, but its useless! (G)

  • April Olson

    Nice photos. Did the Marmot see it’s shadow? I like all the precipitation we are getting but all my weekends are over cast.

    • It didn’t see its shadow while I was there, April – it was always looking at me and my pickup instead!. I must look like a suspicious character.

      It was nice to have good light on one of these guys for a change.

  • Susan Stone

    Beautiful set of photos. I like the way the Marmot’s coloring matches the neighboring lichens. And while I understand your frustration with the Eagle flight shots, I’d give a lot to have the shot you did get.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Nice series, but what I got the biggest kick out of, sadist that I am, was your reaction and comment about Mother Nature…. 🙂 You sure got that right!!!

    • Ha, if you’re entertained by my frustrations you should have a wonderful time around here, Patty!

      Sometimes I’ve wondered how I’ve been able to stick with bird photography for so many years because of all of the “near misses” and stupid mistakes I make. But then I think of my occasional successes and I keep plugging away. The “carrot on a stick” ya know…

      • Patty Chadwick

        I am so darned jealous of you for even seeing these magnificent birds that I have I have almost minus zero empathy for your photgraphic frustrations….poor baby!!! I’d give anything for the shot you did get!!! Same with Mia…

  • Judy Gusick

    Great shots! It’s guaranteed that if one looks away for split second the action will happen! 🙂 Gave me a great belly laugh to start the day as I’ve been there, done that, more times than I care to think about and it certainly isn’t funny at the time! 🙂 The Marmot does fit beautifully into it’s environment.