Thursday, January 26, 2017

Use It Or Lose It - photographing eagles

crows and eagles in Sheffield Mills
"Use it or lose it" is a commonly used phrase that Ive heard many times over the years. I never gave much thought to the origins of the meaning, but it gets applied to my life on a frequent basis these days.

For decades the term has been used to describe the best way to deal with the issues that come with aging. If we keep exercising (or maybe for some of us, if we actually start exercising) then we keep in shape. Likewise, if we keep exercising our brain, we continue to think better.
Ive never been good at exercising, which is one reason that its great to be a dog owner. At a certain time of day, my dogs can guilt me into going for a walk by simply coming and sitting and giving me "the look". If the look doesnt work, pawing my leg usually gets my attention. Their joy is my reward. How can I grumble about our four kilometre walk when I see how happy it makes them? Although I have to admit, I dont feel the joy while Im bundling up in my winter coat, boots, hat, scarf, and whatever else I can think of to block those icy winds. But I do feel wonderful when were actually out and on the go. 
As for keeping my brain active, thats becoming an important routine as well. Reading the newspaper is a vital, and these days somewhat emotionally painful, as I try to reason whats going on in the world. My daily sudoku is a fun way to get my brain going. To my dismay, I have started to realize that the books I read are not as complex as they used to be.
Words seem to be escaping me a lot of times now, and conversations can be a little embarrassing. Sometimes names dont come to me quickly. "Hi, you" doesnt seem like an appropriate greeting to someone that Ive known for years when their name doesnt pop to mind. I used to get extremely embarrassed about forgetting words when I was talking with someone, but now I laugh it off and blame my aging brain.

"Old age isnt for sissies" has been attributed to Bob Hope, but apparently Bette Davis quipped that line. And if you have to ask who Bob and Bette were, then you dont fall into the definition of old yet.

Worst of all is that sometimes now I have to re-learn things that Ive learned before, and sometimes not too long ago.
I took this photo several years ago, and it won second prize in the Nature category of a provincial photo contest
There is a wonderful event in Sheffield Mills every year that bird watchers and nature photographers love to attend. The Eagle Watch falls over two weekends - the last weekend in January and the first weekend in February. Local farmers throw their chicken carcasses onto a field, the eagles get a free lunch, and photographers record the show. Visitors come to the site from all over Nova Scotia and far beyond. In the past, we have met people from Newfoundland, Quebec, and various places in the States.

I dont like to fight the crowds on the official weekends, so my husband and I head out during the weeks before the big event. We have missed a few years, and felt that it was time to get back into the habit so we headed over to the valley during the second week of January. We picked a good day. It was raining lightly and I had the field to myself. Were not early risers, so we never arrive when the feeding frenzy is happening. But there are lots of photo opportunities despite this.

It was when I was fumbling with my equipment and having trouble following the eagles in flight with my lens that the expression "use it or lose it" popped into my mind. I hadn
t quite lost it, but my action photography skills had certainly got rusty.

Patience is not my greatest skill, but I took a deep breath and calmed myself down. There were dozens of eagles in the trees lining the fields, and as I worked with my camera I became aware of what was happening around me. The eagles were "talking" to each other with unique calls and the sounds were coming from all directions. I started to get into the moment, relax and my memory snatched enough recall to get my hands and eyes moving fast enough to capture some action.

this eagle chose his meal to go - there is a chicken carcass in his talons - taken in 2013 when my skills weren't as rusty
Purists will tell you that capturing images from this event is not real nature photography. That same argument can be applied to animals in wildlife parks, and zoos, and even our backyard bird feeders. Regardless of how you feel about staged nature watching opportunities, this is an experience that everyone should enjoy at least once, even if they are not photographers.

The majesty of these birds is unequaled in my mind. And to see so many of them together is absolutely amazing. Fair warning to those who attend - bring your binoculars if you are a spectator and your longest lens if you are a photographer. The first year we attended, the eagles were just distant specks in the trees. The best time to go is early in the morning, when the feeding frenzy is in full throttle and you can see the eagles in action, as well as the brave crows and seagulls who will attempt to steal food from them.

if you arrive early in the morning, you'll see the feeding frenzy that occurs when the chicken carcasses are thrown on the field - taken in 2013
Its quite an adventure, and on the two event weekends there is a festival type atmosphere in the crowds. Watching nature in action is always something good to focus on, regardless of whether we're photographers, adventurers, or lovers of life.


  1. Good grief girl cut yourself some slack. You are one of the most together people I know.

    The Eagle images are stunning. I love taking pictures. You engage in photography.

    The more I look at what you produce, the more I realize how different those two things are.

  2. Wow Sara, these photos are amazing! A few years ago when we were in Cape Breton, we foolishly took the one and only road that goes across the middle of Cape Breton. Well, the foolish part was listening to the GPS and taking what turned out to be a wrong turn down a logging road. But the best part of the drive was coming up over a hill and seeing a flock of bald eagles take off from the road right in front of us where they'd been eating a carcass. Talk about fumbling for your camera! By the time I got myself sorted out, most of the eagles were just dots in the trees. But I was able to zoom in on one eagle and get a so-so picture after lots of cropping and touch-ups!


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