I’ve always been someone who writes a list and double checks it. In preparing for a long day at the lake in freezing conditions I wrote my list and started preparing a couple of days before-hand:
* Check the weather forecast (need good light)
* Charge batteries (20oF battery longevity is reduced about 40% from warm summer days)
* Check media cards are empty and formatted
* Clean lenses
* Check rucksack has basic essentials
* Check map for sunrise direction
* Check map for travel time from home
* Check weather App for sunrise time
* Check social media for latest images published from that area
* Get warm clothing ready and laid out
* Make lunch/snacks
* Get flask ready for 5:30am prep !
I’m not bad at early starts, but I still like to have everything prepared the night before so I only have to eat breakfast and make a hot drink for my flask and walk out the door.
With a sunrise of 08:00am I wanted to be on-site at 07:30am, so leaving home at 6:00am for the 80 mile drive.
The car temperature gauge was showing 20oF when I left home and the windchill was several degrees lower.
At least the roads were empty and the drive was trouble free. About 5 miles from the lake, I switched my truck to 4WD as there were a couple of inches of snow all around the area. After parking and loading up with my gear I popped a spare battery into my inside pocket to keep it warm for later in the day. I walked the 800 yards to the lake. A stealthy approach was impossible with fresh snow on top of the frozen footpath puddles. Just as I approached the lake, lots of birds took flight. About 50 Canada Geese, 2 Blue Heron and 5 Bald Eagles were airborne and I cussed the cracking ice under foot.
I settled down and tucked myself tight up against a large tree on the bank side. I usually wear camouflage winter clothing and today was no exception. In my opinion, bright clothing that doesn’t blend into the environment is a big ‘no no’ for this type of photography.
Amazingly with temperatures below 25oF for many days, and a wind chill in the low teens, this particular lake was not frozen. All the other lakes and lagoons in this area had an inch or two of ice on the surface.
Within 20 minutes the Bald Eagles were spotted in the distance through my 10x42 binoculars. There was a frozen river South of this lake and the Eagles were sitting on the icy surface, about 500 yards away from me. Soon the Eagles were flying over the lake in front of me, about 200 yards away. The light was still poor and a few ISO.6400 test images confirmed a grainy unusable set of images.
Shortly after sunrise, a small break in the low clouds over Lake Erie coincided with a Juvenile Bald Eagle circa 100 yards in front me. Although the overall light level was still relatively low, it provided the best opportunity of the day !
Between 8:30am and 10:00am I was joined at this popular location by 7 more photographers who were all looking for those same flight images that I was after. I knew some of this crowd and was kindly introduced to the rest. Without exception, a really nice group of people.
Now, I’m not trying to be critical in anyway, but this large gathering happened to coincide with the Eagles moving further away. An occasional juvenile came to within 200 yards, but my conclusion was that a large group having some lively banter was not conducive to high quality Eagle photography.
Around lunchtime I was alone again as my friends went to get some lunch and to warm up. It was bitterly cold looking directly into a 12-15mph wind all morning.
As pulled myself up close to the tree again, the Eagle confidence returned quite quickly. These magnificent raptors started circling the lake a little closer than in the previous 3 hours.
Another okay image from the day was a feather perfect mature Bald Eagle ! The image is still somewhat soft, but a ‘keeper’. There were not many blue sky backgrounds, but this was one of those.
Some of the guys from earlier returned (after lunch) and some new friends too. The result was similar, with the Eagles taking a more cautious approach to their search for a fish or duck dinner.
Around 3:45pm I was alone again, but this time the only Eagles in sight were high up, returning from their hunting grounds to roost near the mighty Monroe Power Plant.
I decided to try the shores of Lake Erie for the last hour of usable daylight, so hiked over to the beach.
Unfortunately it was a similar situation with Eagles at high altitude returning to roost near the Plant.
With a couple of hundred Bald Eagle images on my media cards, I headed back to the parking lot and then the long drive home, to thaw out from my January chill at the lake.