The eagles of the sea

The havsörn or ‘sea eagle’ (white tailed eagle) is one of the more fascinating birds out here. Its the largest eagle in north Europe and for me, the most fascinating. Having almost become extinct during the 1900’s, the eagles made an astonishing recovery thanks in part to humans banning the use of pesticides and actively aiding in repopulating efforts in the 1970s. As a kid, I never saw eagles out here yet these days it seems as though I get to see one fly past us daily. Incredible how fast some things can change in the ecosystem.

When I got back into photography I was more interested in capturing landscapes. It wasn’t until I purchased my 70-300mm telephoto lens that I could really try my hand at wildlife photography. I made the most out of my backyard and started taking photos of the local wildlife – mainly ducks, swans, snakes, insects and other birds. The eagles started appearing more often around 2 years ago which is when I started my project of photographing them.

In the springtime, the eagles were quite confident, flying low above the cabin. They were usually on the hunt for food and I could tell when they arrived by the way every single bird would start sounding off. Other telltale signs included unusual flight behaviour (herons flying erratically past the house, ducks fleeing in flocks). I became pretty good at recognising the signs and would often have my camera ready by the door with the settings dialed in for bird photography. Many lunches were interrupted as I heard the birdcalls and would dash outside for a 5 second window to see the eagle before it zoomed off.

These are some of the most exciting images taken in 2019 – watching eagles fight over a meal. The photos above were previously featured in another blog article ‘eagle safari with kayaks’ when we paddled out with the kayaks and followed the birds!

The early summer was a bit tricky for the eagles as they were often harassed by stressed parents doing their best to protect their young. Food was difficult to come by as the eider ducks (their primary food source) have dwindled in numbers the last few years and there are probably too many eagles occupying the same territories. Nature needs to strike a balance between the two species at some point.

This was one example of the imbalance in the ecosystem. This eagle had just attacked a merganser duck in the water. Having barely made it out of the water, the exhausted eagle landed on a nearby rock as the injured merganser tried to swim to safety. Unfortunately, it died moments after the attack and the eagle watched for a bit before flying off. Both birds lost something in the encounter: the merganser lost its life, and the eagle lost its meal. It must have been very desperate to attempt such a hunt as mergansers are larger and therefore heavier, meaning the risks would have been far greater for the eagle. Its not unheard of that an eagle drowns as its prey is too heavy to lift from the water.

The late summer was quiet but the eagles would surprise us with an occasional visit. They would usually fly far out at sea across the horizon at sunrise and maybe return before sunset. It was always exciting to recognise the birds through their ‘flight style’ – slow, powerful flaps of their massive wings.

In the autumn they were back more often but due to the lack of light in the usually stormy weather, photographing them became a bit difficult. It didn’t stop me from trying though! These birds are incredible to photograph and I can only look forward to 2020 and whatever moments I get to witness. One exciting project I’ve got in the works is a trip to the Åland islands where Peter, a friend of mine has been filming the eagles with his drone, should be interesting!

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