Trip Report – Bald Eagle Photo Workshop – November 2015

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer

The 2015 Bald Eagle photography workshop had great guests, lots of bald eagles, nice weather, and beautiful snowy scenes for the backgrounds of images. The eagles were in good numbers and feasting on the salmon run on the Chilkat river just outside of Haines, Alaska. Our guests this year traveled as far as Switzerland and those from the US were from California and Colorado. Four had taken another workshop previously and for two guest this was their first workshop with us.

Bill McRoberts, a Haines, Alaska local and Matt Shetzer set out a couple of days before the guests arrived to scout out the changes in the river this year, where the eagles are congregating, as well as scout out some of our favorite locations off the beaten path and see if we can get our SUVs into these locations. These are some of our most photogenic locations, and always favorites with the guests.

Bruno, Rene, Bill, Richard, Maureen, Paula, Barry and Matt

Bruno, Rene, Bill, Richard, Maureen, Paula, Barry and Matt

Welcome to Alaska

The sign says it all !

Day 1 (Welcome to Alaska)
As the guests arrived on the ferry, we took them through a tour of the town and then checked them into their hotel. We all went out for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant overlooking the Lynn Canal and Haines boat harbor. We talked about the upcoming week, as well as some bald eagle behaviors to watch out for which will help anticipate the shots and improve the photography.

The guests arriving on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry

The guests arriving on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry into Haines, Alaska

Once we all got to know each other, our dinners were served, and many enjoyed the fresh fish of Halibut and Salmon. Off to a restful night at the hotel, charge those batteries and check the camera gear, as the photography starts early tomorrow morning..

Day 2 (Snow, Snow and more snow, just what the photographers ordered.)
We started early this morning before sunrise to discuss multiple exposure techniques for the eagles, as well as a quick review of the cameras histogram so we can achieve perfect exposures of these birds with a high contrast (white head and dark brown wings). As the light began to brighten, we headed out into the field where we worked on creating beautiful images of bald eagles in the snow. At the preserve, the snow was falling all day, and we photographed wintery scenes with eagles. As the day went on, we left the preserve and went to a lake to see 40 trumpeter swans and take pictures of this beautul lake, with mountains all around. As the sun set, we headed back into town for a quick rest, download images, and charge batteries.

Barry and Paula photographing the eagles for the third year in a row !

Barry and Paula photographing the eagles for the third year in a row !

The group headed out to dinner at the local pizza joint located in Dalton, the movie set for the 1991 Disney picture based on Jack London’s novel, White Fang. After dinner we headed up to the classroom for discussions on photography techniques to capture tack sharp images, perfect exposures and interesting bald eagle compositions. The group all contributed to these discussions, and ideas were shared by all.

Day 3 (Bald Eagles, Mountains, Glaciers, and Reflections)

As we headed out to the bald eagle preserve this morning, it was party cloudy offering views of the massive, rugged mountains that surround us. We photographed the eagles all morning, and then after lunch, headed over to beautiful Chilkoot lake for some landscape shots with reflections of the mountains and green glacier fed water. There had been a two pairs of mated eagles that we saw prior to the guests arriving, and we wanted to see if we could find them again. As we got closer to the lake, there they there. We were able to capture images of these bonded birds sitting together in the spruce trees. That shot will end up on as someone Christmas card.

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The group walking back after the action flew away

As the day went on we headed over to view a glacier with a waterfall running 600 ft down, and then over to another beautiful location in Mud Bay to watch the warm evening light paint the mountains rising from the water.

After a quick rest, and dinner, we ate at another local restaurant, and then continued discussions on photography techniques specializing in eagle photography with a focus on in-flight and action shots. Once we finished our talk, many guests brought images from the day to discuss, and it was great to see the amazing images already coming from the guests.

Day 4 (Eagle Attack day)

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Rene traveled the furthest of all our guests, all the way from Switzerland.

We woke to clear skies, and headed out before sunrise to photograph the stunning Cathedral peaks as the warm sunlight kisses the mountain as we overlook the Chilkat River. Once we got our shots, we continued to follow the alpenglow up to the Chilkat river and photograph the eagles. Today we had lots of feeding and fighting as the eagles prefer to take food away from another eagle rather than catching their own fish.

Today we were on the action. The eagles were hauling fish up on the banks and fighting over them and once that fish was gone, they would haul out another fish and attack each other for it. Many guests skipped lunch today due to the non-stop action and kept that shutter going resulting in lots of action shots. As the day went on, and warm light shifted onto the trees, and we were able to photograph the eagles perched as well as them eating the salmon in the trees.

After this action packed day, we headed back to the hotel for a bit of a break, and the off to dinner overlooking scenic Lynn Canal. Tonight during the workshop portion of the trip, we demonstrate different Photoshop and Lightroom techniques for post processing images, and worked up a couple of guests images for them to take home. We then spent the rest of the evening showcasing guests images. Lots of great action images, including fighting eagles, in-flight shots, feeding, perched shots, and the trumpeter swans. As we wrapped up the evening, the snow started to fall again. Looking like a great day tomorrow!

American Bald Eagle Foundation presentation of an Eastern Screech Owl by one of the Junior Raptor Handlers

American Bald Eagle Foundation presentation of an Eastern Screech Owl by one of the Junior Raptor Handlers

Day 5 (On the Preserve)
We woke to a fresh dusting of snow this morning and headed back up to the preserve. We were treated to another day of action with many bald eagles catching fish, dragging them to the bank and fighting over them.

Maureen getting low for another attack shot !

Maureen getting low for another attack shot !

Once we spot a fish getting caught by an eagle, we are treated to an hour of action, until the fish has been eaten enough and light enough for an eagle to fly to its favorite tree. In the late afternoon, we headed to the American Bald Eagle Foundation where we viewed up close their two Bald Eagles in a mew, as well as an Eastern Screech Owl presented by an 8 year old in their Junior Raptor program. After a great tour through this interesting museum filled with Animals of the Chilkat Valley, we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest and warm up before dinner.

A nice dinner at the Bamboo Room and the salmon sandwiches were a favorite. After dinner we had discussion and review of the images shot from today, and very constructive discussion by all.

Day 6 (Moose and Swans, and Eagles of course)

Bill and his favorite new lens, the Canon 100-400

Bill and his favorite new lens, the Canon 100-400

We woke to a warm day, and a light rain in Haines, however when we got out to the preserve, it was a very nice day without rain. It is amazing how many days this happens as the preserve is in a different weather pattern than the town. On the way out to the preserve we spotted a moose and spent a little time photographing her. The size of these beautiful animals always amazes me. We then headed out to a great little spot to photograph the trumpeter swans and counted 22 today. The group got great in-flight shots of them as they flew by us multiple times. We headed back to the bald eagles, and had lots of luck. Many guests filled up their memory cards today as so many images were taken.

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Bruno next to the Chilkat river all ready for his next shot. He didn’t miss many !

At the end of the day, the bald eagles pulled out 3 fish back to back (45 lbs of fish) up close. We were treated to multiple fly by, great fights in the air, and eagles banking right in front of us. We stayed until we couldn’t shoot any more as the sun had set, and it was getting dark.

After a quick rest, we headed over to our final group dinner and tales of the trip, and where laughes were had by all. After dinner, the guest requested we do another image review and show and tell. Everyone participated and displayed amazing images from the week and everyones images just got better and better each day.

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Richard is all ready for more eagle action.

This group worked very hard on improving their shots, and the group discuessions really helped folks compose their ideal shot.

Day 7 (Farewell Alaska)

As the ferry doesn’t depart until 4pm today, we thought we would head out from some more bald eagle photography, because that is why we are here right? We headed out to the field and enjoyed our last day photographing the eagles. As the day came to a close, emails where exchanged, hugs given, and we said our goodbyes at the ferry terminal.

 


We had such a great group this year. A very considerate group making sure everyone got a great shot, and the even discussions were full of great ideas and new techniques and compositions to try. Sharing the beauty of the eagles and Alaska is one of my favorite things to do, and seeing everyone’s excitement and images makes the week a fantastic treat. Thank you to all ! – Matt Shetzer
Wildlife Sightings

  • Bald Eagles
  • Trumpter Swans
  • Canadian Geese
  • Dippers
  • Merganzers
  • Bear Tracks in the Snow
  • Moose
  • Mountain Goats
Complaints heard during the workshop

  • The eagles are too close
  • My memory cards are full
  • There is too much candy.
  • I just used another battery
 

 


The most eagles I have ever seen in the trees at one location this year. How many bald eagles can you count?

The most eagles I have ever seen in the trees at one location this year. How many bald eagles can you count?

68 Bald Eagles. What an amazing sight to see

68 Bald Eagles. What an amazing sight to see

Trip Report – Bald Eagle Photo Workshop – November 2015 was last modified: November 19th, 2015 by Matt Shetzer