Wednesday, July 22, 2009

IN SEARCH OF EAGLES

click on photos to enlarge This has just been one of those days when I wanted to simply float around on the water. Just float around. I hadn't been on Watts Bar Lake this year and decided to explore those waters. I have never spent time on the main lake; only on the Tennessee River below the impoundment. In times past, on the Tennessee River, I have seen bald eagles soaring about the taller trees. Soon I devised a route that would take me about three miles up the East shore line of the dam, cross over the large main bay to the other side and return, exploring the many coves and channels. The smell of rain was in the air and the wind was blowing a bit more than gentle. Water conditions were less than I would have liked them to be but, this isn't a perfect world. I launched and headed West up the lake. It figures; as soon as I get in the water the wind doubles in strength. I'm still OK and pushed the throttle forward as far as it would go. I was trying to ride on top the swells instead of crashing into them. I crossed over to the other side of the lake after a two mile run. The chop on the water was a bit rough but the Gheenoe skimmed over it in style. This small boat requires a bit more effort on a driver than a large boat does. Swells and chop can break over the bow and flood the deck if one simply crashes about carelessly. Therefore it is wize to attack repetitious swells on an angle. I have to select a point on the far shoreline and quarter the boat against the swells on a course that will take me to that spot. This method allows the Gheenoe to work with the natural movements of the ever changing water. A cove lay ahead and I make for it. I can see the water is much calmer just past the entrance of the cove. I reached up and pulled the throttle back and idled the Gheenoe close to the water's edge. The boat was still rocking in the rolling water but nothing like the main lake. I settled back in the seat, took a deep, relaxing breath and pushed the brim of my river hat up off my eyes and let it settle in place at my hairline. And there he was. A beautiful bald eagle was perched high in a tree just to the right/front of me. I killed the engine and reached in my bag for my camera. The wrong lens was attached. Dam'n! I kept one eye on the eagle and the other eye on the camera as I attached the 300mm lens to the camera body. Oh no! The rolling water was pushing me perilously close to the shore. I had to start up the engine and do a roll to the left and go back whence I came so that I could turn again and make another approach to the eagle. He was still there. The Gheenoe was rocking and rolling so badly; I was wondering if I could get a decent shot. Thank heaven for image stabilization in these new lenses. I set the camera with a high shutter speed which left me with a limited depth of field. It was all I could do. Between the Gheenoe constantly rolling and washing toward the shoreline and the the engine being turned off and on to keep my line, and trying to watch the eagle at the same time; it's amazing I even got the pictures I was able to get. I had the electric troll motor up front but I feared my movement to it would spook the eagle. I pointed and took the shots. One after another. The big lens was beginning to trouble me. It is so long and heavy that when the camera is pointed up higher and higher; the weight of the metal and glass in the lens fights against (gravity) the automatic focus feature with the result of the auto focus continually trying to lock on the subject, only to be thwarted by the counteraction of the weighty lens. This is called hunting. The lens continually hunts for the point of final focus. The boat was turning this way and that. It was drifting toward the shoreline once again. I would have to restart and repeat the previous maneuver I had to complete earlier. I was thankful for the quietness of the four stroke engine. It whispers..... And he was still there when I made my second drift back to his area. The boat drifted into a position that placed the eagle in a back lighted position. This is my worse fear. I can not make the necessary camera adjustments to compensate for the heavy back lighting. I'll just keep shooting. I'm afraid to click the dial to full auto as I may lose the fast lens setting I initially selected. Then I would be done for sure. I kept thinking; what terrible conditions to run across a gorgeous eagle. How foolish a thought! I'm finding him in his territory. These are his conditions. This is his life. I'm the interloper. I'm the odd entity here. Not him. It's up to me to capture his grandeur and greatness as best I can. I am privileged to be in his presence. And when he turned his head and stared at me; a chill went down my back. He felt me worthy to give me a face to face stare. Then he spread his wings and did what eagles do. Looked magnificent!!!!!!!! He must have found me an interesting sight. He flew down the shoreline and perched high in a grove of trees just ahead. At least there was no back lighting problems. But the wind was whipping up and blowing my little boat around like a cork. I doubted I could get anymore shots of worth. But I would give it a try.. This eagle is the largest bald eagle I have ever seen. He was amazing! I was in Awe at his grace and beauty. He flew effortlessly and lightly touched down as if no wind was blowing. I did mention he was magnificent; didn't I? I am hoping with each press of the shutter button that at least one of these pictures comes out crisp and clear. All I want is just one. Just one... He was really watching me intently now. It wouldn't be long before we would go our seperate ways; at his insistance of course. I've looked at these pictures on the screen in the camera and they looked fine. A few are a bit fuzzy but I can't fight the action of the boat and focus on the camera at the same time. Safety first and the pictures second; I guess. I apologize for the less than perfect images. It's the best I can do with the circumstances presented me. And he is gone. A vision on loan from nature. Precious! I'll never forget his face, his eyes as they bore into mine. I wonder what he thought. Something had to click in that majestic head of his. He stared at me! I'll never forget him.