There are few things as majestic as witnessing a bald eagle in flight, soaring high through rugged mountain passes, gliding through fog-
While the mighty bald eagle is a symbol of all that is wild, free, and regal, the reality of their existence is something quite different from what many imagine. In truth, the eagle’s life is not so liberated, but rather, it is one of harsh survival and dependence upon the cycles of nature. During the summer months in places like Kodiak, Alaska, eagles thrive and feast like kings on an unlimited supply of protein rich salmon, which they gorge themselves on daily. However, as summer turns to winter and the last of the spawning fish die and disappear, the eagles become nomads, traveling the trail of blood, desperately searching for the next meal, no matter how small or unpalatable.
As the land becomes snow-
Despite the graphic, sometimes violent nature of their struggle for survival, especially in winter months, the eagle is in many ways much like we humans. Like people, the lives of eagles are filled with beauty and grace, yet, also many challenges and hardships. Like many a love-
The similarities between the lives of eagles and we humans is perhaps one of the many reasons I have always felt such a connection to them and have spent much of my time photographing them. While I have photographed eagles all over the great state of Alaska, all of the photos featured in this gallery are from Kodiak, as there is a great abundance of eagles on the island. I have studied eagles intensely on Kodiak, and I have come to know exactly where they will be on any given day. In fact, I even put together a little instructional video about photographing eagles that you can view at the bottom of the page after the eagle photos.
Bald eagles congregate in great numbers in both wild and urban settings in many parts of Alaska.
It’s very difficult to pick out a personal favorite, as far as eagle images. I take thousands of photos of eagles each year, but only a small amount of those make the cut and are added to my collection. And, out of those, most end up as stock photos or images that are used for a variety of advertisement or product purposes. Only a tiny percentage meet my personal criteria for limited edition, fine art images. The ones that do, have to, of course, be of the finest visual quality, but they also have to be images that capture that sense of awe and wonder, as well as the intensity and power, of our National Bird.
This is one such image that has risen to the top. There is nothing quite like walking through the Alaska wilderness on a calm, quiet winter morning…when the land is hushed by the gentle falling of snow. A tapestry of sparkling white blankets the landscape, with only shades of brown and green emerging from the trees. Being in such a setting feels reminiscent of entering the sacred stillness of an enormous cathedral. One’s senses are purified and sharpened immensely. One’s thoughts are elevated to higher things. One’s soul is refreshed and at ease. Breathing the fresh, clean Alaska air seems to lift the weight of the world off one’s shoulders.
In such a setting, seeing a majestic bald eagle perched in a treetop is a truly magical sight! One can only imagine how the great raptor feels in the tranquility of the moment. It is a tranquility that is shared by all who gaze upon the mighty eagle in the silence of winter.
Gazing into the intense, piercing eyes of an eagle is something that many people will never have the pleasure of experiencing. Such is the reason that close-
Eagles in flight are perhaps a close second place, or a tie for first when it comes to the most popular style of eagle photograph. Again, there is just something soul-
Eagle War Dance, and Eagle Fish Fight, are from another occasion when an abundance of food (fish scraps) was washed in by the tide, and the nearby eagles wasted no time in devouring those hard to come by winter calories. Most of the eagles from that particular photo-
© 2017 Joseph F. Classen -
The bald eagles is incredibly photogenic! No matter what a bird may be doing, it always makes for a great possible photograph. Of course, the challenge is then to actually get a quality photo of the eagle, which can take a great deal of practice, patience, and fine-
This image is one of my most popular to date, and a personal favorite. I was able to capture this shot right at the exact moment that the eagle launched itself out of the tree…like a fighter jet taking off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. One of the most important things to do with any subject of wildlife photography is to first spend as much quality time as possible just watching and intently studying the creature you wish to photograph. Intimately knowing the body language of an animal and being able to instinctually know what, when, and why and animal is going to engage in a particular behavior or movement is something that pays off big time during an actual photo-
Unbeknownst to many who are not able to spend time around these magnificent raptors, eagles are actually very vocal birds. Though their musical vocabulary consists mostly of high-
Risky Business Triptych shows an eagle that finally lost his (or her?) patience. A group of seagulls was relentlessly trying to take away the eagles food. I was amazed to see that the eagle rather patiently stood by and actually let them do it…almost. Right when the gulls were about to take off with a juicy piece of fish scrap, the eagle sprung into action with lightning speed, drove them away, grabbed his meal, and took off to less bothersome feeding grounds. It was an amazing interaction, which I was very happy to have captured with my camera.
While eagles can engage in vicious, deadly battles when times are tough, they can also be quite playful. When a pair of eagles are courting, they do things like fly high into the sky, lock talons, and then twirl and whirl about as they free-
While eagles can be very relaxing and soothing to the soul when observed soaring gracefully through the skies, they obviously have a very intense, fierce, predatory side to them as well. After all, they are birds of prey. This next group of images show that more aggressive side of the eagle’s personality. Guardian of the Bones and Eagle Battle are two photos that I captured while spending a day watching dozens of eagles fight (sometimes to the death) over the remains of a whale that had washed up on a remote beach. That massive source of protein and fat was coveted and fought over by all the creatures in the area...including a sow and cub Kodiak bear that moved in and literally lived right on top of the carcass for several weeks. (See the Grizzly and Kodiak Bear gallery for images of those two bears) It was an unbelievable sight to watch the eagles, especially the younger ones, engage in such savage battles over that carcass. One eagle would pounce on another and drive his sharp talons into the back of his opponent. They would viciously peck at each other’s eyes and grab each other by the neck, seemingly as an attempt to break it! Sometimes they would gang up on each other, and two eagles would work together to beat the tar out of a lone combatant. I’ve seen a lot of eagle fights, but those were by far the most brutal I have yet to witness.
Fishing Eagle and About to Strike are two other images that show that brooding, developing intensity in an eagle’s demeanor before they launch an attack. An eagle will sometimes sit quietly for hours along a riverside, or perched up high in a tree, seemingly with no interest in eating. Then, when least expected, BAMN!! They spring into action and grab their prey with mind-
I’m often amazed by the places I see eagles perched in the more urban settings of Alaska. Sometimes they sit in not so pretty places, like the top of nasty dumpsters or around stinking landfills, but on other occasions, one may find them atop some very distinctive roosts, such as the steeple cross of the historic Russian Orthodox Cathedral on Kodiak Island, on top of a tall stack of crab pots, and on the roof of one’s house, such as pictured in these four popular urban eagle images.
Getting action shots of eagles is what most wildlife photographers are after a good portion of the time in the field, and, those are also the images that the public seem to enjoy the most. Watching and photographing eagles at rest, however, is also something I spend a lot of time doing. After one witnesses, and comes to understand the dynamic, intense, lifestyle and personality of the bald eagle, there is something very peaceful about watching them be at peace…either by themselves, with their mate, or with their offspring, as in these images…one of which (Bay-
The bald eagle, especially during the winter months, is a wonderful subject for black and white photography. This image of two eagles taking off from a gnarled old cottonwood tree…with the primarily black and white pallet of a winter landscape, has become another of my most popular and best-
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