Eagle swimming by Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved

Eagle swimming by Scott Bourne 2011 – All Rights Reserved

I know I said I was through with the Alaska Eagle Trip Diary but I received such an outpouring of response to the images I made in Alaska I wanted to add this Epilogue.

Many of you who contacted me said you were inspired but didn’t think you could ever do something like this. I think you can. If you want it bad enough, you can have it. As Walt Disney said.

“The difference in winning & losing is most often, not quitting.”

I have made literally thousands of eagle photographs on this trip. At a certain point, one starts to ponder – “How many more do I need?”

So I challenged myself. I’ve wanted to get a different view of the eagle. When they fish, they exhibit a particular behavior that’s almost impossible to capture on camera. I’ll try to describe it. They leap off the perch in their favorite tree after spotting a fish – even one a mile away. They start a glide path that is constantly recalculated in real time as they adjust for the fish’s position and changing air currents. They typically make a circle over the area where the fish is to further refine their strategy. Then, as if there were no such thing as gravity, they sometimes throw their airborne body into a 360 degree turn – on a dime. They roll over, fly upside down and for a brief moment, show the underside of their wings as they make the final commitment to the strike on the fish.

I spent one full day, shooting thousands of frames, trying to capture the flanking move where the eagle rolls over and shows his underwing. I have to say, it wasn’t my proudest moment. I tried and tried and tried and failed. Either I’d clip the wings, or the shutter speed wasn’t fast enough or the eagle would notice some change in the wind and ever so slightly adjust his course so that the anticipated flight path and I’d miss everything. In other words, for several straight hours I simply sucked.

But then, in a moment that was probably more glorious than it should have been, everything worked and I got one. One frame came out just right. The eagle made a 360 degree turn, cartwheeled in midair, turned INTO the beautiful light, and I managed to catch the underwings as he dove. It was just great to witness with the naked eye. But to capture it with my camera was even better. The shot might not win any awards, but it was a personal assignment that for me, made the afternoon of shooting more worthwhile.

Another shot I really worked for is an eagle swimming. They are good swimmers but it’s very, very rare to make a photograph of that behavior. Low and behold, after four days of trying – I got one. Sometimes you have to be patient. And sometimes that’s all you have to do – be patient.

Never give up on your dreams. Never give up on anything that is really important to you. Even if it’s just a simple photograph.

I’ve enjoyed my eagle photography trip immensely. I have gained even more respect for these raptors. I learned how tough their lives can be and how brilliant they can be all in one week. I marveled at the sound as they sometimes buzzed right past me to make a dive for a fish – it sounded like a jet swooping down on me.

I saw how the people of Alaska revere these birds. Here the eagle has a special place. It’s more than a curiosity or a rare bird. It’s symbol of the freedom that Alaskans so cherish.

I hope my eagle diary has motivated some of you to try your hand at photographing these magnificent creatures and I hope the images I’ve shared here represents these birds in a manner that will do them proud.

I’ll leave you and this trip with a simple poem that I learned many years ago in high school.

“He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.”

The Eagle
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


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