Bald Eagles And The “Good Old Days” At Farmington Bay

This morning I felt like reminiscing a little about the old days at Farmington Bay and the Bald Eagles there in winter. All of these images were taken in February of 2009.

 

bald eagle 9846 ron dudley

1/800, f/11, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Back then the refuge used to kill invasive carp which eagles learned to take advantage of while they wintered here in northern Utah. In 2009 some of those fish eventually washed down canals from relatively inaccessible areas of the refuge and into some of the shallow ponds, providing a bounty for eagles.

Here a very young immature eagle and an adult are standing next to the mostly submerged carcass of a fish. The adult seemed to be guarding the fish and almost daring the youngster to make an attempt at it so the tension in the air was thick.

 

 

bald eagle 9888 ron dudley

1/2000, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

This interestingly-marked slightly older juvenile was striding through the shallow water with a definite goal in mind.

 

 

bald eagle 9890 ron dudley

1/2000, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

That goal was the remains of another carp. By this time many of the carcasses had been picked pretty clean.

 

 

bald eagle 9961 ron dudley

1/1000, f/11, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

At the time I was still a relatively inexperienced bird photographer and in all the excitement I sometimes didn’t have the presence of mind to remove my teleconverter when multiple birds were close. In this image the result was a cut off tail (the photo is full frame) but I still enjoy the image for its good look at eagles of three different ages and the fish head carried by the adult. The older bird wasn’t in the mood to share so…

 

 

bald eagle 9969 ron dudley

1/1250, f/11, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

it carried the head to a more isolated spot before attempting to find something edible on it.

 

 

bald eagle 9818 ron dudley

1/1600, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Eagles being eagles there was often a lot of tension with so many birds vying for limited food. Here an adult guarding a fish in its talons that we can’t see is screaming a warning at a juvenile that approached too closely.

 

 

bald eagle 2258 ron dudley

1/2500, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM, not baited, set up or called in

Fights often broke out even when they didn’t seem to be over fish.

 

 

bald eagle 0834 ron dudley

1/640, f/11, ISO 500, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM, not baited, set up or called in

And sometimes those skirmishes were pretty intense. I sure wish I’d removed my teleconverter for many of those shots.

Those more innocent days are over. In recent years several developments have altered the eagle situation at Farmington. Those developments include:

  • as word spread about the eagle viewing opportunities hordes of bird lovers and photographers began clogging the roads in February so the experience became less enjoyable
  • significant numbers of photographers began baiting the eagles and Northern Harriers by moving dead fish or ducks (or even store-bought chickens) to more photogenic locations. The baiting situation became so bad that I mostly stopped going to Farmington in February because one often couldn’t tell if you were photographing baited birds or not.
  • the state began hauling in truck-loads of dead carp from Utah Lake and dumping them in an attempt to attract even more eagles. Bald Eagles at Farmington had become a nationally known phenomenon that the State of Utah tried to promote – to the point that Governor Herbert encouraged department heads to do everything they could to insure that “Eagle Day” was a huge success.
  • then, several years ago, eagles in northern Utah began to die by the dozens.  Eventually it was discovered that it was West Nile Virus that was killing them so the fish kill was stopped and they no longer haul truck loads of carp to the refuge for fear that the virus would spread more easily when eagles congregate in large numbers.

So for the last two years eagles at Farmington have been relatively few and far between and most of them stay much further out on the refuge where folks can’t get a good look at them.

Maybe it’s for the best but I must admit that I miss the old days at Farmington – before baiting became such a problem and before they started dumping fish at the refuge.

Ron

 

Juvenile Burrowing Owl In A Cluttered Setting (and I still like it)

Sometimes I’m OK with a little clutter in my images, especially when the main subject is as cute as this one.

 

burrowing owl 5923 ron dudley1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this fairly recently fledged juvenile Burrowing Owl early last month in Box Elder County. With all the twigs surrounding and even in front of the bird I’m a little surprised I like the image as well as I do. But because I usually photograph this species at the entrance to their relatively unattractive burrows or perched on fence posts I appreciate the natural perch despite its flaws.

The inexperienced little owl was obviously flustered because the tip of its left wing was hung up in some of the twigs.

One of the siblings of this bird had an apparent eye infection. Its right eye had thick, visible secretions in it and the eye was kept closed much of the time, though it apparently could see with that eye when it opened. I’ll spare you the clinical images of that bird but this perch with its obvious hazards to the vulnerable eyes of young, inexperienced owls made me wonder if attempting to land in a bush like this was the reason for the apparent injury.

It’s a tough life out there for young birds as they’re learning the ropes.

Ron