A Flawed Bald Eagle Image On The 4th Of July

My original intention today was to post an image of a spectacular adult Bald Eagle in flight and in all its glory as a representative of our national bird and in celebration of the 4th of July. But as I searched my older images I ran across a photo of a subadult Bald Eagle that I’ve liked and occasionally considered posting for many years now. I’ve never posted it because the image has flaws and it may appeal only to me because of my fascination with immature Bald Eagles with this striking coloration.


1/1250/ f/8, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, canvas added for composition, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed the eagle on February 2, 2009 at Farmington Bay WMA. At this stage in their 5-6 year development from fledglings to mature adults they almost appear piebald to me and I’ve always been strongly drawn to this color pattern that is generally so unexpected in the species. Notice that the beak is still mostly dark instead of the bright yellow in adult birds and the eye is also changing from the almost black of the first year bird to the yellow of the adult. Many eagles at this age exhibit some secondary flight feathers that are longer than the others, as this one does. In some ways Bald Eagles at this stage of development strike my fancy even more than mature adults.

But as much as I like this bird and this photo I’ve never posted it because of the following flaws and challenges in processing the image:

  • I was too close to the bird so as taken the eagle was much too tight in the frame
  • To mitigate that problem to some degree I had to add canvas on the right and at bottom. I’d much rather not add canvas to my images
  • Because I was so close, f/8 didn’t give me enough depth of field to get the entire bird sharp. The head and much of the body are tack sharp but the feet are noticeably softer
  • The coloration of the head and beak are so similar to that of the wing behind them that the face doesn’t stand out very well
  • The upper background could be perceived as busy and distracting
  • The image needs slight (but noticeable) counterclockwise rotation that I couldn’t do because doing so clipped the tip of the bird’s left wing

But dammit, I still like the image (I know that many of my readers think I’m too “picky” but I have to be honest about how I feel about my photos).

So here’s the kicker – why did I decide to finally post this photo on the 4th of July and never before after all these years?

Perhaps in today’s political climate an imperfect image is more than appropriate for a far from perfect country to celebrate its day of independence. It was my original intention to make this a positive post in celebration of Independence Day but my heart just wasn’t in it and I have to be honest about that. These days I’m having a hard time feeling positive about anything related to country and future.

I fixed many of the flaws in this image with Photoshop. I just wish I could “photoshop” the good old USA.

If I’ve put a damper on your holiday spirit today I sincerely apologize but it isn’t in my nature to pretend to be something I’m not. Today if the weather cooperates I hope to be out photographing birds all morning and then I’ll just endure the mostly illegal, extremely annoying and potentially fire and injury causing fireworks in my neighborhood for much of the night. And then I’ll look forward to another week of the same as Utah “celebrates” our own Pioneer Day on July 24th. Hopefully I’ll be out camping in another state for that one.

I promise I’ll get back to a more positive attitude after today, at least on the surface.


PS – Here’s an interesting read from the Salt Lake Tribune about the tradeoffs we make here in Utah just so folks can exercise their pyrotechnic “rights” on holidays.



30 comments to A Flawed Bald Eagle Image On The 4th Of July

  • Sue

    Ron.. That JUVENILE EAGLE NOW… BEAUTIFUL BALD EAGLE we R ALL familiar will surely SOON happen.
    I also DON’T like the idea of being surrounded by the EXPLODING FIREWORKS in a APARTMENT COMPLEX.. living CLOSE BY INDIVIDUALS SHOOTING THEIR “FUN” off.. w/No CARE/REGARD of Neighbors around them. It’s the 4 of JULY!.. EVERYONE CELEBRATE w/THEIR FAVORITE BIG BANG BOOM!.. PRAY! the ENDING is @PEACE.
    Good WORK w/the CAMERA!😉❤

  • Shirley

    Sorry so late in wishing you a Happy July 4th. I sold one of my Persian kittens & shipped her to her new owner today. She had company, a rescued Bald Eaglet that was being flown to OWL (Orphaned Wild Life rehabilitation foundation) in Delta, B.C. A Vet near here fed her over the long weekend and said that the Eaglet was not injured but probably would not fledge for another 9 weeks, so very young. So happy she was found by such a caring couple.

  • Jane Chesebrough

    Regardless, Happy 4th of July! Not perfect, like our country, but willing to move forward and give it our best.

  • Maryann Wancket

    Eagles are beautiful at any stage. Thanks for the picture.

  • April Olson

    Happy 4th I am glad you had a good day birding!

  • Barby Anderson

    First I love the photo Ron! Very cool! Now about fireworks, I detest them. Last night I went to bed, or tried, and saw the neighbor 2 doors down practically lighting her DRY Colorado grass on fire from fireworks. We had a fire proof roof put on recently which helps a bit as they do this every year along with others around here. We have 2 indoor cats and a dog and they are frightened of the fireworks. Why is the law not held up? Why back yard displays? What about our brave veterans with PTSD? And our wildlife, the horror of it all! I cannot begin to tell you how I feel about this!!! But thank you for the photo, that was a bright spot. Now on to hearing the fireworks everywhere around me, down by the wildlife reservoir, and it goes on for a week more. UGHHHHH!!!! 🙁

    • Laura Culley

      Oh Barby, I remember those days living in Denver (and Dallas/Fort Worth, too) fearing a stray ember would land on the roof of the mews and start a fire! And since the local kids/adults were firing them off in the streets in front of and behind the property in a neighborhood of close-together houses, the fear was real. The first year, I soaked the mews with a hose and stayed awake until it stopped, but after that, I soaked the mews AND brought the birds inside the house. But it went on for days and days and not only July 4, either! Any holiday would do and the fireworks were in addition to the stray gunfire!
      In Denver, I lived less than a block away from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (now a mostly cleaned-up wildlife refuge). My biggest concern was with the herd of bison–if they got into a stampede of fear, there wasn’t anything to stop them from escaping the refuge beyond a few strands of barbed-wire fence, which are nothing more than a minor annoyance to a herd of stampeding bison! My dogs were terrified, but oddly, the noise didn’t seem to bother Mariah or Jack or my friends’ goshawks. They mostly took it in stride, ignoring it as silly human stuff.
      I’m utterly amazed that people cannot project the possible consequences of their actions forward. It’s just a total lack of intelligence and respect for others. Oh, I can go on and on…I’m SO furious on this issue among others. GRUMBLE!
      I’m HOPING for a fireworks-free evening here. It’s tinder dry here in Arizona. Just in case, I’ll be on guard with the hose at the ready.

  • Love the photo. And the article. And the post.
    And from this side of the world like the idea that perhaps your fair country is in its adolescence with more learning and growing to do.
    And agree (conservatively speaking about 2000 per cent) on the pyrotechnical issue. My city banned fireworks to the individual a loooong time ago. There is still the occasional public display but not months and months of mayhem.

  • Nikonsteve

    The perfect photo for todays political climate…I think it’s an excellent photo…This bird will grow and change and hopefully our country will too…I agree with the whole fireworks issue..can you imagine Arizona in the summer..MAJOR fire worries, so what do our politicians do…? legalize fireworks?!?!…go figure…Thank you once again Ron for bringing a little sense to the madness…and a wonderful photo

    • Laura Culley

      Indeed Nikonsteve…and that fireworks blessing while devastating wildfires are burning in several different areas. STUPID!

  • Chris Sanborn

    Re: state of country and potential harm from fireworks to animals, land & people — I say, you are most definitely not alone. That said, I will hang on to hope for change in my lifetime. This blog and your commenters are reassuring in that regard. As for juvie Bald, a great image and perfect for today, “flaws” included! .

  • Thank you for all your thoughtful comments everyone. I’ve already had my say so I’ve decided to try to let this one comment by my only additional input. A couple of observations:

    Personally I think I’m preaching to more than just “the choir”. True, most of the regular commenters on Feathered Photography probably largely agree with the positions I’ve taken in this post. However… only two or 3 dozen readers regularly comment on my blog but my posts are seen daily by many hundreds of others who don’t comment. Significantly more than a thousand folks will probably see this post and though it’s likely that most of them love birds it’s also likely that many of them are not bonafide members of “the choir”, if you know what I mean. If my words here have any positive impact on even one of them I believe the effort and time involved in publishing this post will have been well worth it.

    I had an absolutely wonderful time with birds in northern Utah this morning and that experience really picked up my spirits. However, one event did bring me back down to reality for a few minutes. At exactly 6:02 AM (30 minutes before dawn) just north of Ogden, Utah, some jackass was setting off SERIOUS, illegal fireworks in a neighborhood easily seen from the freeway (I-15). The sky-bursts and smoke were very clearly visible from the freeway and I can’t imagine how most of his/her neighbors must have felt about being rudely awakened in their own homes after having had to endure fireworks until all hours just a few hours before. What a damn jerk!

  • Thank you, Ron. I am celebrating the 4th with a heavy heart. My husband and I are, frankly, scared. But I’m refusing to let fear paralyze me. This immature Bald Eagle is PERFECT for today. And the comments here give me hope that I’m not alone. So that’s a bonus as well. May your 4th be exactly what you want it to be. (I still think the turkey was a better bird for our country. grin)

  • Laura Culley

    I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I agree 100% on all your statements (except for the photo–that’s a whole ‘nother matter)! I’m so depressed about the direction my country is headed that I could just SCREAM most of any day. Pick a subject and the ramifications and possible outcomes are simply horrific. I’m not good at pretending, either. It takes far too much energy that I’d rather spend elsewhere–generally in focusing on my joys.
    Don’t EVEN get me started about fireworks! Whether it’s about the sheer stupidity of letting them go in tinder dry environments or whether it’s about the sheer stupidity of fireworks in the hands of stupid humans (and I don’t even have the words for scaring birds and critters whether they’re wild or pets), it’s just STUPID! Sorry about the ridiculous redundancy there, but it just doesn’t make (common) sense! I’m HOPING that living out in the sticks will prevent the idiots from setting off fireworks here, but I think the probability that I’ll escape it here is in the miniscule range.
    Now, let’s get back to that gorgeous photo. It’s just splendid! You can pick it apart if you wish (I GET that perfection thing in the context of anything worth doing is worth doing well), but I think it’s outrageously beautiful! There’s the possibility that I could be wrong (I have been wrong once before…LOL!), but I’m sticking to my assessment. And all that despite that I’m not overly fond of bald eagles (I prefer goldens), I’m a sucker for the juvies and raptors in general. And there’s also the issue that the bald eagle is a good representation of our country.

  • Alan Kearney

    Ron, thank you again for an outstanding image I’d only dream of capturing myself. Thank you for honestly sharing (in such a public forum) your deep concerns for our fragile Republic, those same concerns trouble my every waking moment and dreams. I’d be surprised if I’m the only Vietnam Vet (I volunteered for 4 in 1966) that follows your efforts daily. As a vet with PTSD I’m frustrated as h_____ that my time / energy / almost my life as an 18/19 yr old young man is being destroyed by such incompetence. I thought “Tricky Dick” was as bad as it got, boy was I wrong!

  • Sallie Reynolds

    I love the photo, and am glad you didn’t rotate the image (I always find rotated images uncomfortable, particularly with birds in flight – even a slight tampering does something to the absolute precision of that activity). I love the image on this day, as well. Maybe we can remember that in the overall scheme of the world, the US is a juvenile. Our leaders, and this goes for all, are acting like teenagers – rude know-it-all rascals. And where did they get the license for their behavior? From us: the citizens of this still young nation. We’re a bunch of over-privileged 13- year-olds with machine guns. Hope we don’t blow up the world.

  • Thanks for this posting, I’m in agreement with you and others who have left comments, and I wish us all a Happy 4th as we fight, like our forefathers, for freedom and justice. And let’s not forget interdependence, while we’re at it.

  • Marty K

    Perfect image for the 4th — both the juvenile eagle and the flaws. Gorgeous, gorgeous bird!!! As others have said, you’re preachin’ to the choir (and this fat lady has sung! 😉 ). I also found — and fell in love with — your blog because of your eagle age progression post. Been keeping track of Hope and Glory this year via AEF.

    Wishing all of us a safe and quiet 4th. Our city outlawed all fireworks (except for professional shows with special permits), but that doesn’t stop some idiots who think the rules don’t apply to them. Our animal shelter has actually made room for all the scared strays that’ll come in this week by fostering out a bunch of the dogs up for adoption. Hopefully, there will be some “foster failures” whose households find that they can’t live without their new furry friend.

    I’m off to celebrate with a 5K. 🙂

  • Susan Stone

    This is a beautiful image, and even though the background (for me) is crazy making, it is also sort of an extension of the bird’s coloration. I like the coloration of the juvenile Bald Eagle, but would probably not do well identifying one in the field. But now an adult, that’s an easy bird to identify, and I like that. That article was very well done, and was an eye-opener – I’ve never thought about the effect on veterans, even after living with a Vietnam veteran for several months (who had very strong PTSD). I also agree with Patty about the appropriateness of this holiday being represented by a juvenile… I hope you have a wonderful time shooting today. Me, I’m celebrating by going out in search of an elusive cactus flower.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I agree with Dick…about apprropriateness…especially since it’s a juvenile…that’s the key word. I love seeing the feathers of both juvenile Bald Eagles and the Goldens…(the wambli gleska -the Spotted Eagle)..the patterns and colors are so beautiful. This image and your comments bring me back full circle to how I “discovered” youand Mia…questions about changing eye color as the bird ages….

    • Patty Chadwick

      I wish you all a happy, safe fourth…am no fan of fireworks, though…all the noise, smoke and flashing lights are terrifying to so many animals…including those humans s who have been in combat…(a usually happy go lucky friend of ours used to actually cower and cry…he was a Vietnam vet)….

      • Patty Chadwick

        I just read Marina Gomberg’s article (via the link–didn’t notice the link the first time around)…was a litlle (not very) surprised at how similar her comments were to my own..she validated my own concerns….

  • Jo Ann Donnelly

    Well, Ron – you know I can NEVER regret your post of an eagle and I love seeing a Juvie Bald eagle even with all the flaws you found in your assessment of your work. With 4 seasons of watching Bald Eagle nests from the eggs being laid, to hatch through to fledge, I LOVE watching these fluff ball Bobble Heads grow up and fly away on their journey. You get SO attached to them that you wish you could follow them. Seeing both Mia & your photos of their age progression give a look into their journey to adulthood!! I LOVE this post and this amazing Juvie headed towards it’s future!! Also sorry that this 4th is a downer for you!! Just know that for this fan, your post has made my day!!

    • Jo Ann Donnelly

      Just reading the comments made me think of something to share. I was Sanibel a few weeks ago and saw a sign as we drove on to the Island – ABSOLUTELY NO FIREWORKS ALLOWED!!! I was thrilled to see it though not surprised as it’s the home of the J.”Ding” Darling Wildlife Nature Preserve!! Darling was the driving force behind the start of all our U.S. Nature Refuges. He also bought all the land on Sanibel set aside to keep the area on the Island pristine. He developed the Duck stamp to fund the Refuges and purchase more land for additional refuges. So wanted to give you a little positive info related to protection of the wildlife and land we all love.

  • Judy Gusick

    Gorgeous! 🙂 Initial reaction to article title was KMA! They do have some valid points, BUT! What’s NOT noted is the every day actions of “man” that create hell for animals. The folks with PTSD I feel for. Many years ago a guy I was dating came home on R&R from Vietnam around the 4th and I spent the day getting shoved to the ground when fireworks went off – he was on river boats and there was really no place to hide on those. That being said there was NO mention of banning fire works by him. Thx for sharing – I too am feeling dismal about our Country at this point.

    • Judy Gusick

      P.S. I don’t appreciate inappropriate use of fireworks in neighborhoods at all hours on days other than the 4th nor am I happy when some ignorant folks blow them off “in the country” when it’s dry, dry, dry.

  • Dick Harlow

    “Perhaps in today’s political climate an imperfect image is more than appropriate,” OH YES! I agree, perfect image and timing! 200+ years as a republic is not very old. Our problems at this point in our history are very real and in my opinion drastic. How quickly we as a people tend to forget or ignore the past and the lessons we supposedly learned.
    Love your choice, but unfortunately you are talking and showing your picture to the choir.

  • LS Clemens

    It’s’ interesting to see the phases of an eagle’s development. Just saw Golden Eagles near Walden, Colorado which resulted in a conversation of adult versus juvenile. Reminds me of the discussion of Spring Warbler plumage versus a Fall. And, appreciate your honest comments, too!

  • Doogs

    Can we have a conversation someday about whether the ‘lantern festivals’are dangerous as well.I have tried to find some data on it, but haven’t found much. Thank you for your candor.

  • Jorge H. Oliveira

    “but it isn’t in my nature to pretend to be something I’m not”. This is one of the multiple reasons why I will always follow your blog. You are an example to all of us, every day, every week, every month, every year.
    I wish you a as quiet as possible 4th of July.