Bald Eagles At Resurrection Bay

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One of my objectives on my trip to Alaska was to get a decent image or two of a Bald Eagle.  I’ve seen eagles only very rarely prior to taking this trip and I’ve attempted to photograph them without notable success.  Bald Eagles are not residents of the Sonoran Desert, so my opportunities to photograph this species have been extremely limited.  Occasionally, someone claims to have sighted one here, usually during migration, prompting a stampede of birders that resembles the California Gold Rush.

So, for me, Bald Eagles are a precious item, birds that definitely are on my wish list.  I anticipated success from the moment we boarded a boat at
Seward to tour Resurrection Bay, about a three-hour drive southwest of Anchorage.  The guide, a helpful and very knowledgeable  young woman,  smiled broadly when I asked if we’d see eagles, and said: “sure.”

And, see them we did.  Much of the bay is ringed by shoreline with tall conifers.  We discovered eagles perched on these trees at regular intervals.

In the eight hours or so that we cruised around the bay we must have seen at least 15 of these magnificent birds.

Most Bald Eagles choose to reside near water and fish are an important element of their diet.  At Resurrection Bay the eagles use the conifers as lookouts, scanning the bay with their acute vision in hopes of locating a fish that they might seize.

The birds seemed to be relatively indifferent to us. Nearly all of them remained perched even as our boat bobbed directly beneath them.  I had hopes of seeing an eagle capture a fish.  That didn’t happen, but I did capture an image of an eagle in flight with a partially eaten fish in its talons.

These are huge birds, much bigger than the hawks that I’m used to photographing.  For comparison purposes, an adult Red-tailed Hawk weighs about two and one-half pounds and has a four-foot wingspan.  An adult Bald Eagle weighs nine pounds or more and has a wingspan of about six and one-half feet.

All of the eagles that we saw at Resurrection Bay were adults.  It takes young eagles four years or more to acquire adult plumage and juvenile plumage looks quite different from that of the adult birds.  I asked our guide why there were no young birds visible and she told me that in the two or three years prior to this year the water temperature in the bay had been abnormally warm.  That caused the native fish to vacate the bay.  The shortage of food caused adult birds to cease breeding and it also caused starvation among younger and less experienced eagles.  Fortunately, the bay’s waters have returned to something approaching their historic temperatures and, consequently, fish are back in abundance in the bay.  Biologists are hopeful that the local eagles will soon resume breeding.

Here’s an example of a young bird, likely a fourth-year Bald Eagle whose image I captured on an earlier boat trip to photograph puffins.  Notice the abundance of white feathers on the eagle’s underwings, something that is absent in adult birds.  Notice also that the bird’s head, neck and tail have yet to acquire the pure white plumage of an adult.  This youngster is molting, as is attested to by its very ragged tail and missing wing primaries.  It may look considerably different after it completes this summer’s molt.


There’s a majesty to these birds that I find to be absent in smaller raptors.  My eagle encounter whetted my appetite, so much so that I’m planning to join a photo tour in December that will concentrate on eagles.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting (except for fifth image, which was shot without telextender).  First image shot at ISO 800, f9 @ 1/500.  Second image shot at ISO 1600, f8 @ 1/3200. Third image shot at ISO 1600, f8 @ 1/2500.  Fourth image shot at ISO 800, f8 @ 1/1250.  Fifth image shot at ISO 640, f7.1 @ 1/1600.  Sixth image shot at ISO 1600, f8 @ 1/2500.

2 responses to “Bald Eagles At Resurrection Bay”

  1. Tom Munson says :

    Nice work, Steve. I love the head on look in the last image.

  2. tkiiatmindspringcom says :

    It must have been a great experience to see all these eagles!

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