Eagle eye

Posted 2/15/23

I’m not terribly sure how to view the pastime of photography anymore.

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Eagle eye


I’m not terribly sure how to view the pastime of photography anymore. 

When I was much younger, and digital cameras were yet to really break onto the scene, my dad used to carry around his old 35mm Canon in case he saw any cool wildlife in his travels. Since he was, and remains, a professional hunting guide, this was his common medium of choice. He took photos of foxes and bears and tons of PA and New York whitetails, as well as a spattering of any number of other critters that either came up along the way or were sought after in his many treks through the hills and crags along the scenic Delaware river valley.

One animal in particular, though, seemed to be his absolute favorite, and he took as many photos of every sighting as he could. This animal was none other than the national bird, the bald eagle. 

I fear the day I have to go through my father’s belongings and take care of his affairs, because I happen to know that there are no fewer than two full chests containing only photos of eagles. Mature eagles, immature eagles, nests and action shots of anything and everything you could imagine seeing an eagle do. 

If the picture is possible, he has taken it. 

Sometimes he would hike miles just to get to an open part of the river in the winter, where he knew the eagles would be as they hunted for fish. Often we would drive north on 191 in PA toward Hancock, NY, and our job as passengers would be to crane our necks out the window in search of anything that resembled an eagle. 

One such time, we stopped after seeing a few eagles sitting together in one group of trees just a few miles from Starlight, PA. Dad grabbed his camera from off the dash of the old green pickup, and swung out and around the bumper before they could fly away. My sister slid over to watch the eagles from the window, and I exited the truck just behind dad to get a closer look. As he stepped over the guardrail, the eagles in the trees above, maybe three or four birds, dropped from their perch and began their regal descent down toward the river and away from our encroaching viewership. 

This alone would have been memorable, since they were so close and you rarely see many eagles together at once like this, but then something unforgettable happened. No sooner had the eagles flapped down than nearly 40 or 50 more exploded from the hillside below. 

The sparse trees suddenly went dark with a flurry of flapping great birds, stretching up into the grey overcast sky. With each pull of their wings,  the noble animals ascended. 

I have never seen so many eagles, a mix of ages, in one place in my entire life, not even on a nature documentary. To this day I have no idea why there were so many, but I like to imagine it was a meeting of the minds, so to speak, a council of regal titans of the sky where some sort of decisions about the fate of eagle-kind was to be discussed. Perhaps they were organizing a collective attack on someone’s chickens (the only thing I really hate about eagles). 

Every time I see an eagle I remember the days when my dad sought them out so diligently, getting entire rolls of film developed, with nary a photo deviating from some black-and-white raptor soaring over the land we hunted and fished right along with them. It’s funny to think we share those pastimes with such creatures.

The way out here, the cameras have long since changed from the film models of 20 years ago to the high-end digitals of today, and the phone cameras that contend with them. What we pursue, and how we value what we photograph, may not have changed as much. As I rode home from work this past week and spooked up an eagle feasting on some roadside carrion, my thoughts rocketed to the photos my dad would take years ago. Not being as readily equipped as he was, I resorted to my phone to capture the moment, but nonetheless, I found the moment blessed by the beauty of the encounter.

photography, camera, eagles, view


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