Eagle-eyed

Could you wait two weeks for a sin­gle per­fect shot?

NPhoto - - Front Page - To learn more about Lau­rie’s work with golden ea­gles, visit www.lau­riecamp­bell.com

My work pho­tograph­ing golden ea­gles in Scot­land is part of an on­go­ing project, partly sub­sidised by the North Har­ris Trust, to build up a li­brary of pho­tographs of a wide va­ri­ety of sub­jects to pro­mote the area for wildlife tourism. Over the last two years I have spent 172 days work­ing on the North Har­ris estate, and there is still lots to pho­to­graph.

I have used Nikon equip­ment for over 40 years, mostly be­cause it’s so durable. When I was pho­tograph­ing golden ea­gles from my win­ter bait hide, I used a com­bi­na­tion of Nikon D3s, D3x and D300 bod­ies with a 500mm f/4 VR lens and ei­ther a 1.4x or a 1.7x Nikon tele­con­verter.

I first de­vel­oped the tech­nique of tempt­ing golden ea­gles down to bait in win­ter in the early 1990s. Bait­ing with red deer car­rion is per­mis­si­ble by law, but only with the con­sent of the landowner. For my re­cent work on Har­ris, I used a ‘flat-pack’ hide de­sign con­sist­ing of a tim­ber frame­work and water­proof cov­er­ing, which I then cam­ou­flaged with a mix­ture of net­ting and nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als to help it blend in. I make my hides as hab­it­able as pos­si­ble. The more com­fort­able you are, the longer you’ll wait, and the more you’ll see.

All be­ing well, golden ea­gles can re­spond to bait­ing within a cou­ple of weeks. I had golden ea­gles vis­it­ing the site reg­u­larly af­ter three and a half weeks of a five-week trip. They only vis­ited the car­cass early or late in the day, though, and came most of­ten in bad weather. They rarely stayed for more than a quar­ter of an hour.

Light lev­els were of­ten so low that I needed to shoot ex­po­sures as long as a quar­ter of a sec­ond, which meant I needed to wait un­til the bird was per­fectly still and had paused to look up be­tween feed­ing. As the ea­gles be­came con­di­tioned to the noise of the cam­era, I started to in­tro­duce other sounds, to sub­tly prompt them to look up.

Nest­ing in­stinct

I also pho­tographed golden ea­gles at the nest. This is more con­tro­ver­sial nowa­days, but with over a dozen pairs breed­ing on North Har­ris, I was de­ter­mined to record this as­pect of their lives. The eyries of vir­tu­ally all golden ea­gles in Scot­land are mon­i­tored by rap­tor groups, and I had the ad­van­tage of work­ing with a lo­cal recorder. I de­cided to work at a site where I could in­stall a hide on a nar­row cliff ledge. Hides must be in­tro­duced grad­u­ally and the re­ac­tions of the adults must be checked af­ter each stage, from a dis­tance, to en­sure that they have ac­cepted the changes to the en­vi­ron­ment around their nests.

Dur­ing the early stages of con­struct­ing my hide, I left a ‘dummy lens’ in place to help get the adult ea­gles ac­cli­ma­tised to a shiny ob­ject be­ing near their nest. It was made from an alu­minium can and sec­tion of plas­tic drain­pipe.

When it came to us­ing the hide, it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to risk chang­ing lenses at such close range, so I used two to­gether, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween a 200-400mm and a 500mm at­tached to a heavy-duty fluid Sachtler tri­pod head, and a 70-200mm at­tached to a Man­frotto ‘Magic Arm’ clamped onto one of the tri­pod legs. I could use the lenses with or with­out 1.4x or 1.7x tele­con­vert­ers, and with ei­ther my full-frame Nikon D3s or D3x bod­ies or my cropped-sen­sor D300, which gave me great flex­i­bil­ity. Added to the mix was a Nikon 1 V1 with an FT1 adap­tor, which I re­served for long-range pho­tog­ra­phy.

My favourite im­age so far from this project is of a fe­male eagle re­turn­ing to her nest with prey (see right).

I used a flat-pack hide de­sign con­sist­ing of a tim­ber frame­work and water­proof cov­er­ing, which I then cam­ou­flaged with a mix­ture of net­ting and nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als

1 Lau­rie’s hides con­sist of a tim­ber frame­work with a water­proof cov­er­ing, which is then cam­ou­flaged us­ing nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als 2 On Lau­rie’s D300, his 500mm lens has an ef­fec­tive fo­cal length of 750mm – great for get­ting close-up shots 3 In­tro­duc­ing the hides grad­u­ally gave the ea­gles the chance to be­come ac­cus­tomed to them, so they’d be­have nat­u­rally

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