Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Eastman Lake Raymond CA

Dale Matson

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Eastman Lake From Vista View

Let me begin with some particulars about Eastman Lake from Wikipedia.

“H. V. Eastman Lake is an artificial lake formed by the construction of Buchanan Dam across the Chowchilla River in the foothills of Madera County, California. A small percentage of the northwest area of the reservoir is in Mariposa County.
Buchanan Dam was a 1975 flood control and irrigation project of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The earthen dam, 218 feet high with a length of 1746 foot at the crest, impounding a maximum capacity of 150,000 acre-feet of Chowchilla River water in the reservoir, is owned and operated by the Corps.”
Eastman Lake is about an hour from my home in Fresno CA and I enjoy the mostly two-lane drive through the rolling hills of Madera County. As you near the reservoir, you think to yourself, “How could there be a lake in the middle of all these foothills?”
As you begin the climb around the dam and up to lake level, there is a wonderful vista view area. After that, there is a ranger station/visitors information center as you begin to descend toward the boat ramp. The folks in the ranger station know lots about the wildlife and can be very helpful. There is another boat ramp on the west side of the lake also. There are also many nice camping and RV accommodations for those wanting to stay more than a day.
The place is full of hawks but has other bird species like the Belted Kingfisher. My main interest is the Bald and Golden Eagles that nest here. Unlike Millerton Lake near me, all the eagles at Eastman Lake are year-round residents.
I have no idea where any of the eagle’s nests are but the lake is small enough to find a few places from which to scan much of the lake with binoculars. The Bald Eagles really stick out with their white heads.

If you go during the week, there is very little traffic with most visitors parked at one of the two boat ramps for fishing. There is also a hiking trail that is about 4 miles one way that ends at the Raymond Bridge. Raymond is the closest town to the reservoir.
The landscape photos were taken with the Sony A7R3 and Zeiss Batis 25mm F2. The Wildlife photos were taken with the Sony 100-400 GM with a 1.4X extender.

Golden Eagles

Red Tailed Hawk
 Mature and Juvenile Bald Eagles

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Eagle Photos: The Lessons Continue

Dale Matson

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This year began slowly, with photograph opportunities for mostly juvenile Bald Eagles and lately has ramped up for many chances to photograph the mature Bald Eagles.
This is my third year attempting to improve on my bird skills. Wildlife is so much more involved and difficult than landscape photography. Both require patience and adequate preparation. Being a former fisherman, I know how to wait. Even though my wildlife lens amounts to 560mm, it is almost always set at the maximum for eagles. Eagles in the wild have a limited comfort zone. I am usually taking photos as I slowly approach the birds because it is only a matter of time before they fly away. Occasionally, they will let you get right under a tree in which they are perched.
I have found that shutter priority is my best camera setting. It is great to have image stabilization in my Sony A7R3 and in my Sony 100-400 GM lens (I use a 1.4X teleconverter also). I have never had the opportunity nor have I seen the need for a tripod for eagles.
Morning seems to be the time they are most active. The problem with long lenses is that most are not good in the low morning light. Using a f 2.8 long lens means having lots of money and using a tripod. They are not very portable. Much of the process is learning where eagles like to go. I find living in Fresno CA that Millerton Lake and Eastman Lake are convenient places to look. Both lakes are home to both resident pairs of eagles and seasonal migration visitors. After three years, I am still learning their favorite spots. Where are the Coots? There you may find an eagle. They also like peninsulas, dead trees and lakeshores with lots of boulders.
This year I have used my 10X50 binoculars much more than in the past. My big lens is like a spotting scope but…it uses battery life. Boat ramps are great places to drive down to and simply scan the shoreline for birds.
This year I have become more discerning about what is acceptable. Many of my shots have tree branches covering a portion of the eagles but the head, eyes and beak must not be obstructed. The pose is important also. I really like the shots where the bird is launching off the branch to fly away.

I slow the shutter speed down for birds that are perched so there is as much light and as low an ISO as possible. I move around the tress to expose as much as possible of the bird in the branches at the risk of the bird flying away. Sometimes getting closer means more of the bird being covered by branches. A bird even in bright sunlight may have the head in the wrong position creating shade over the eyes. Yesterday I had 200 photographs of a pair of perched eagles. When I reviewed the photographs, there were only a few where both birds had a good head position and good lighting on the eyes. They eventually both flew away. Both the birds and I had been there long enough. I think they know me when I show up or when I am sitting there and they show up. What a joy it is for me.

Nictitating Membrane

Golden Eagle
Golden Over Millerton Lake