Okay, I just can't stand it - I HAVE to post the eagle pictures! Eagle Awareness offers many field trips from which to choose, and the first and last field trip of each day is along a particular creek. We woke at 5am and met the guides in the lobby at 5:45am. Our convoy left at 6am sharp. Driving down curvy mountain roads in the gloom of predawn we were on the lookout for deer, which inhabit the park in record numbers. Once on the flat land it was a short jaunt to a particular site where the guides semi-guarantee eagle sightings. Our guides were outstanding. Park rangers from Lake Guntersville and DeSoto State Parks who have worked these mountains and lakes for over a decade. They know their stuff.
Bald eagles travel from their nests down this creek that leads to Lake Guntersville every morning. They leave early to hunt, following the tree line or waterway south before curving west toward the lake.
The light wasn't very good this morning, with lots of clouds. Temperatures were in the mid-30's with a 10-15 mph wind right out of the northwest. Our three guides, armed with powerful binoculars, would point out the eagles as they begin to fly down the channel, along the trees. Most of the group were first-timers to the program, like me and Carroll, and we were grateful the guides were there to point out the eagles, give us facts and thrill us with stories.
We took photo after photo because we couldn't help ourselves, but most of mine are fuzzy or the eagles are very far away. The BEST moment of the first morning were two adult bald eagles that soared and played and jousted, turning upside down and touching each other in flight several times to the ooohs and aaaaahs of the waters below. My photos of this event are too horrid to post but the memory remains.
A flock of something flies by.
As eagle sightings began to dwindle it was obvious frostbite was starting to form on all our finger tips. We head back to the Lodge for breakfast and to prepare for the next field trip.
We return to the same creek, same spot after an afternoon field trip, a subject for a separate post. This time we know where to go so Carroll and I arrive about 10 minutes before the Lodge convoy. It's around 3pm and the eagles are coming home to roost. From our vantage point we also see a lot of hawks, great blue herons and ducks. However, we are all hoping for a much clearer, closer eagle encounter. We were not disappointed.
We saw many bald eagles but one in particular was the memory maker. The juvenile bald eagle you see in these photos lazily flew our way from the lake and circled gracefully above the creek, along the tree line and generally stayed in our area for some time. We gasped when he flew directly above us, low enough for us to see his feathers clearly. None of my photos have been cropped - they are all the real deal. Carroll and I were both doing back-bends in hopes of getting our "hero" image, and I am pleased to report - and show - that we were successful!!!
The juvenile bald eagle soars over our heads, looks down at us, then eyes forward he flies over the causeway to the waterway on the other side. It was there that he spotted dinner.
Talons drop down!
From this point on he is on the other side of the causeway and beyond our sight, but eventually we see him far away, water dripping from empty talons. No fish, but so beautiful. Russet feathers glowing in the setting sun, he turns down the channel and heads home.
We stay for a few more minutes basking in the glow of the moment. The sun is setting and the winds pick up again. Prickling fingers tell us it's time to head back for dinner, some wine and story telling. Before doing so a trio of mallards fly by and I couldn't resist taking some shots. It looks like mom, dad and a teenager mallard but I do not know for certain that it's a juvenile mallard. Anyone?
There are bald eagles everywhere along Lake Guntersville. While there are bald eagles in Alabama overall, Lake Guntersville boasts the most nests and highest count of eagles. Truly, we were astonished at the amount of bald eagles we spotted during the trip. Bald eagles soared over the Lodge daily and constantly flew by the huge windows overlooking the lake from the lodge. Breakfast, lunch and dinner we would watch eagles fly by at eye level. As mentioned before, eagle sightings gloriously interrupted every program, and the presenters were just as excited as we were.
Our personal count: 24 bald eagle sightings. I just realized I forgot to post one amazing photo so I'll do that next time. There are most photos, naturally, as I took well over 1,000 to get a few decent shots. 24 bald eagles! 24! We were happy and satisfied eagle watchers. Next post - more wildlife.