A pair of mature bald eagles sat majestically on a favorite perch in one of the largest white pine trees in Ludington State Park. I was stunned to see the eagles so naturally vignetted by pine branches as Brad maneuvered our tiny Boston Whaler skiff into Hamlin Lake water shallow enough that I could get out of the boat and stabilize my extra-long tripod on the lake bottom and still keep my tripod ball head and camera dry above the surface of the water. I was very excited about the prospect of making a strong image, but I needed to stay calm and move slowly so as not to appear threatening to the eagles. I got the tripod set, made an “insurance shot” in case the eagles flew and quickly but thoroughly evaluated the digital feedback. Experience had taught me that when outdoor photographers—me included—are this spun up about a shot, we make mistakes we wouldn’t ordinarily make, especially when we fail to really see what we are shooting or just shot. I made that first “adrenaline dump” shot, then deliberately calmed down and set about going through my checklist for finishing the image. Right away I realized that a pine cone looked like it was sticking into the head of the eagle on the right. To eliminate this merger, I had to shift my camera position slightly to the right. I very slowly made my first few steps away from the birds to lessen any anxiety they might already have due to my presence. Then I moved a couple of slow-motion steps to my right and reset my tripod, being careful not to make any sudden movements of my arms and hands. Now the micro-composed composition looked nearly perfect. I quickly made another insurance shot and then focused on looking for a magic moment where the birds’ heads were in optimum alignment with my camera. I wanted to be able to see the profile of their beaks, and I wanted to emphasize the relationship between the pair. Seeing takes intense, total concentration. After a couple minutes, there it was: a magic moment. Click. Done. This was the rewarding finish to a marathon effort to get to this point. Brad and I had spent months learning the daily habits and haunts of several mature eagles we discovered while shooting in 2007 for our book on the park we thought we knew so well but were learning more about every day. I was able to make this photograph not only because we had learned where to look for these eagles, but also because we had learned how and how close we could approach without alarming them. Experience is a good teacher. I was rewarded with one of my all-time favorite wildlife images. Brad and I selected this image for the dedication page of Ludington State Park: Queen of the North in honor of my parents, Bud and Dorothy Reed, a pair of strong leaders who gave Brad and me the “courage to fly.” We thanked them “for encouraging us to soar after our own dreams.” Another dedication page image of an eagle taking flight honored my oldest son Tad, a U.S. Army Infantry officer, and all the other men and women of our Armed Forces who at the time were fighting in Iraq. Even while I was consumed with getting shots for the book, my thoughts and prayers were often focused on Tad, a world away, bravely serving our country. Those thoughts reminded me how fortunate I was to be in the Michigan outdoors living my American dream.

Love Birds

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