This last weekend I headed out to Reelfoot Lake in search of some photos of bald eagles. I met up with my buddy Chase from Memphis on Friday evening, and we got our gear ready for the next morning. For the trip we rented between us a Canon 500 F/4 IS USM and a Canon 400 F/2.8 IS USM and then we each picked up a Canon 1.4 TC III teleconverter. We wanted at least one of the longer lenses to have that wide aperture in case the lighting was bad, and it ended up coming into play when we had to do some shooting in the rain.
We stayed at the Reelfoot Lake Inn which is where I stayed when I went to Reelfoot for the first time 2 years ago with the Music City HOG chapter. It is a nice family run hotel that is perfect for this sort of trip. Ruben, the owner of the hotel, hooked me up with a guide for the next day named Dwayne Dunn who operates Cypress Creek Outfitters. Dwayne came and got us around 5:15 on Saturday morning, and we headed out to the boat ramp to get the day started.
We spent the first part of the day shooting from around the duck blind where there had been quite a bit of eagle activity during the duck season. We saw some juvenile birds, but they were so far across the lake, that even with the long lenses, they were barely dots. We eventually switched to setting up on the boat with one of us in the front, and one in the back, and drove across the lake while we were shooting. One of the most surprising things for me was seeing flocks of pelicans flying overhead. That was very unexpected, but I was able to get some great shots, so that worked for me.
After a couple of hours on the water, we headed back and drove around through some of the wildlife refuge areas around the lake in search of birds. At once point, we were both standing in the bed of the pickup with lenses setup on tripods shooting as the truck crawled along next to a field of ducks. Once again, we saw a few juvenile birds, but we still had yet to see a mature eagle. Finally along a side road I saw a bird off in the distance in a tree so we stopped the truck, and when I took a look through the 500, I saw that it was our first mature eagle. We got out and setup, and were able to shoot, and the bird just sat there looking at us turning its head every so often offering a different angle to shoot it at.
We parted with Dwayne around 1, and then proceeded to drive all around the lake after a quick stop at the visitor center to get some shots of the injured birds in captivity, and to grab a map of where the eagle nests were located. We covered about 150 miles over 2 days just in driving around the lake, and were rewarded with a nice variation of birds, including a few more mature eagles. Some of the best shots of the birds in the nest however, were right in the middle of the town next to a construction zone. This is where I got some of my favorite shots of a pair of eagles together at their nest. It was amazing to hear them calling to each other as one would approach, and the situation would have been perfect, if the area around the nest was clear of twigs, but with nature, you shoot what you are dealt.
Overall, this was a great first attempt at wildlife photography. I learned quite a bit, and I am already making plans to return again next year armed with a longer lens, and a better game plan of when to be where around the lake in order to get some better shots of a mature bald eagle in flight, or swooping down to snag a fish out of the water. Per Dwayne’s suggestion, I plan to go next year when duck season is still happening and setup next to the blind, as the eagles often take downed ducks from the water before the hunters can get to them, and that is a shot that I would have to capture.
The rest of the images can be seen at