Length Matters

On a beautiful, crisp November morning I drove to the cliffs at Lake Meredith’s Fritch Fortress.  I had the 300mm lens on the camera.  I walked down a pathway along the edge of the cliff scanning the water with the binoculars looking for migrant waterfowl.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

I come to this area 4 or 5 times a week.  The cliffs are about 60 meters above the lake and it’s a good place to watch the Great Blue Herons that live year round at Meredith.  There is about a half mile square on this end of the lake is only a few feet deep and the herons and ducks and gulls like to forage and hunt here.  I’ve also seen Red-tailed Hawks hunting and soaring where the cliffs rise from the edge of the water.  I’ve photographed Greater Roadrunners and Cliff Swallows in this area as well.  There had been a tremendous flux of migratory waterfowl through here in the last few weeks and I had added quite a few new birds to my lists from this vantage point.  It’s not a place for great closeups of birds but I can usually get a photo that I can use to ID the birds.

I was in for a couple of surprises this morning.  I noticed a group of large white birds on one of the sandbars on the other side of the lake.  After a studying them a few moments I realized that they were pelicans.  American White Pelicans winter on the Gulf Coast and breed in the Summer in Utah.  Meredith is a stopover for them. I took several shots of them and of other groups of birds so I could look them up when I got home and headed back along the cliff edge to my truck.

I had only walked a few minutes when I noticed a large flock of mallards suddenly take wing.  I trained my binoculars on the birds and watched a large, dark bird with a white head and tail circling above the mallards–my first Bald Eagle!

I climbed about half way down the cliff to a small outcropping and sat down and watched the the eagle for several minutes. He landed on a sand bar just off the far shoreline and was joined shortly by several other large birds.  Some of the new arrivals didn’t have the white heads and tail feathers and I thought maybe they were hawks or Golden Eagles.  We do have Golden Eagles around here and I have since seen a pair of them, but these were immature Bald Eagles.

I sat there for about an hour, watching and photographing the birds.  I counted 11 eagles that morning.  I’ve seen as many as 16 together at a time since then.  I later found out that they winter here every year.  This year has the largest count in decades.  When I got home and looked at the pictures I was disappointed to see that while the birds were identifiable, the photos were not all that great.  Clearly I needed a longer lens.  In mid-December I purchased a Sigma 500mm lens.  The difference was amazing.  For more images of the Eagles see the Raptor page.


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