Nova Scotia's Eagle Watch 2013

The feeding frenzy of 18 eagles shown in this photo was but a sample of the amazing spectacle that took place on Saturday.  
After an hour's drive to a small farming community on the Bay of Fundy side of Nova Scotia, Darrel Nicks and I were ready to take some photos.  This was an event I'd been waiting a long time for (basically since I heard about it a few months back), and I was eager to give raptor photography a try. It would be a challenge of my patience and timing.

Darrel, having done this pilgrimage before, was amply prepared with a 7D, his 40D and two long lenses including a 70-200 and his 400mm prime.  Luckily, before upgrading to his 400mm a few months back, he'd been using a 2X extender to add reach to his 70-200mm lens.  Since he wouldn't be using it, he offered it to me for the day so I could get closer to the action.

It was greatly appreciated, as the full frame 5D and 35mm film size would limit my range. I basically had the lens pinned at 400mm the entire time we were shooting, and I was still wishing for more reach.

A few people with cameras turned out for the show, and by a few I mean close to 200 or more, many with very high-end gear.  
I set a challenge for myself: take a couple rolls of film, colour and black and white, to see what I can get.  I actually was pretty happy with the results: of the 24 exposures of colour, I got one shot I really like (top of the page) that required very minimal cropping.   I'm still sorting through the black and white, but I'm not sure there's much there in the way of impact in the shots.

So, how does Eagle Watch work?

Basically, everyone congregates along the edge of a large square farmer's field in Sheffield Mills.  After 8am, a local farmer stops by with his half-ton and unloads about a dozen dead chickens 75-100 feet into the field.  Meanwhile, along the right edge of the field, several dozen eagles sit and watch.  They wait and wait, probably just to annoy the people waiting (or they're concerned about people in general, they can see us much better than we can see them).

After a time, the crows start to brave the shooting gallery.  They pick away at the chickens very briefly, and then the seagulls show up and crash the crow's party.  At this point, the eagles start getting territorial, and claim their prize.  They swoop in, scattering the gulls and crows and attempting to pick up morsels of food to carry back to their perch.  Seeing as how an eagle can carry very nearly it's own weight, I was surprised to see them hang around the feeding spot, fighting over the food.  Surprised, and of course, ecstatic since I'd never seen more than two eagles at a time prior to this event!

I'll probably do bird photography on an opportunistic basis while focusing on my portraiture.  I think it's something I'll pursue at some point down the road but at this point, I can't justify the means of getting the fantastic shots you'd see by searching for "Bald Eagle" in a 500px search engine.

This last photo was a very heavy crop, from 21 megapixels down to about 8. Shot at 400mm, it gives a sense of how far the reach would have to be to capture this kind of moment.  If you try this yourself, use a crop sensor. It's just easier.