Every year is different at Farmington Bay – the weather is different, the numbers of birds are different, the ponds used by the eagles is different – adaptation is the key to great images. This year a few days before we arrived there was a thaw, and the ice covering the different ponds was mostly gone. With no ice forcing the bald eagles to congregate along the free flowing sections, the birds were scattered around the refuge. It turned out that one particular stretch next to the road, maybe half a mile in, was an eagle favorite in the mornings.
John Killian, Butch Ramirez, Bill Singleton, and I used that stretch of road to really shoot some great action images. The eagles would work over some of the fish that were along the pond edge, then cycle out and around, providing us with dramatic arrival and departure images. The passing storm fronts with their high winds would ground the eagles around the marsh – sometimes a dozen or more would be parked along the marsh/field borders in groups only 100-200 yards off the road.
When the winds relented the eagles, northern harriers, American kestrels, and the occasional barn owl would begin hunting again, sometimes in excellent light.
When we drove out in the pre-dawn light mice would run across the road, testifying to the food available to the hawks, owls, and falcons. We even encountered a short-tailed weasel in his white winter coat (ermine), though his appearance was so brief we weren’t able to capture any images of him. They are fairly common out in Farmington WMA, and most of the Rocky Mountains. I’ve seen them in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, while my only shots of one was farther south on the west side of Utah Lake, near Provo.
After shooting in the morning we headed out to Antelope Island State Park to see if any larger animals would present themselves to us. We photographed a nice pronghorn buck and saw a number of large mule deer bucks on a hillside a few hundred yards off the road. Coyotes hunting in the distance and a lone Chukar crossed our paths – but no great shots.
We spent the afternoons back at Farmington Bay photographing the always difficult to shoot northern harriers as they hunted the meadows paralleling the main road. With a stiff breeze blowing the harriers had an easy time flying into the wind – almost hovering – as they banked and floated along – always scanning down into the grass for the next mouse.
The colors of the male (lots of white) and female harriers (lots of brown) are so different that many people think they are different species – with the band of white at the beginning of their tail feathers showing they are the same hawk. Like most wildlife shoots, you take everything the animals/birds, weather, or circumstances will give you – and we did.