Why do I keep going out to photograph birds every chance I get, even though I have plenty of photos to choose from to create any number of paintings well into the future? Quite a while ago I wrote about something called the “wow factor”. I’m always in search of it. Most times it’s evasive and hard to capture. If I get one photograph per outing that I consider “paint-worthy” then I’m usually happy. Of course, there is always the missed shot that would have been pure gold. That is when I tell myself in order to feel better, “Hey you’re a painter not a photographer”! The missed shot is what keeps me going back. Knowing that there is always something better out there.
The Osprey nest that I’ve been photographing lately has sadly blown over in a storm. I was planning on recording the baby birds’ growth stages and now I’ve missed out on some golden photographic moments. The Ospreys have been returning to the nest here and there, but it is obvious that they are devastated, as am I.
So a few mornings ago, I set out to watch an Osprey nest that isn’t quite as close for viewing, not expecting much and I was blessed with the unexpected! I had an amazing experience as an artist/photographer/bird lover. As I walked up to the edge of the river, I spied something in the grass. It was a large fish skeleton, picked clean to the bone. The head was severed from the rest of the body and lay a couple feet away. I saw some marks in the dewy grass from which a seasoned investigator might surmise a struggle took place. My eyes transitioned from the fish carcass to a nearby tree, where there was a very large bird, darkened by shadow, looking down on the crime scene.
It was a large juvenile Bald Eagle! He was letting me get closer and closer, which isn’t usually the case. I had entered his feeding ground and I was intruding. I started snapping pictures as fast as I could, knowing the limited amount of time Eagles allow for having their picture taken. It took off quickly and circled the surrounding wooded point. I took my eye off the tree where he had been perched in shadow, just for an instant. I turned back around and there he was, having just landed back on the same tree. I missed the golden shot. I knew instantly I had missed it. :-(
I did, however, manage to get a number of good shots, shots that inspire me as an artist. When I paint my first painting of an Eagle, I want the image to be one that I’m excited about painting. Getting close enough to our national bird is always quite the challenge. Getting close action shots is even harder. That morning was exhilarating. I didn’t expect so much action and I knew I was lucky to have the morning that I did.
So, going back to playing detective, I thought if the Eagle likes to eat fish in the morning and harass the local Osprey nest, then maybe he will return to the scene of the crime at roughly the same time the next day. I just had a hunch! :-) I set out the next morning to see if I could get even better shots! This time I was expecting the unexpected. I was more prepared for action.
I witnessed four or five aerial encounters between the Osprey and the Eagle. At one point the Eagle landed on the 18th fairway and was in possession of either a small animal or a fish and the Osprey wanted it badly. The Eagle kept leaping up high off the ground with beak wide-open snapping at the Osprey. The Osprey kept dive-bombing him, to no avail. I was too far away to capture the encounter clearly on camera, but it was fascinating and educational to watch the behavior of both the Osprey and the Eagle.
I witnessed take-offs and landings. I witnessed fairly close flybys. I walked away from these two outings feeling that combined with my prior Eagle studies, I’m now equipped to tackle my first Eagle painting. I have a wide variety of Eagle photos, in-flight and posed, along with a better understanding of the bird’s behaviors.
Understanding the behaviors of a bird and studying them as close as possible, as much as possible, can only help make the finished painting that much more believable. Having had the unexpected close encounters like the ones I’ve had, certainly adds inspiration, enjoyment, and confidence while painting.
I hope you will keep checking back to my Journal to see what’s on my easel. An Osprey is on it now, and I know an Eagle will be on it soon!