Flight of a Golden Eagle
Aquila chrysactos
December 18, 2011

The following sequence of photos attempts to show what it's like being at a fall hawk watch site and seeing, in this instance, a golden eagle making a close approach. It's a magnificent feeling but difficult to convey the happiness of the experience. Imagine, here is an eagle flying hundreds of miles from Canada to be seen for a minute on its route south.

Jo Hays Vista has clears view to the north and west. Any migrant approaching is first seen as a speck, either in binoculars or by naked eye. At first, the speck is no larger than a piece of dust or a floater in one's eye, but - particularly for an eagle - moving on a straight and steady path indicates a raptor. At this point, the raptor may stay far away and remain no larger than a speck to observers. The "good" raptors continue their approach.

Having a telephoto lens on a digital camera helps enormously. The first detail that cries out, "golden eagle," is the golden V on the nape of the eagle's neck.

Golden eagle in the distance
  As the golden eagle comes closer, more details are seen.
Golden eagle in the distance
  Generally speaking, I hardly ever see an eagle flap its wings, but on days with a light wind, an occasional wingbeat is performed.
Golden eagle wing beat
  Eagles don't fly blindly. They are looking everywhere.
Golden eagle looking around
  The thrill of a close-approaching eagle is difficult to describe.
Golden eagle coming closer
  From the first naked eye glimpse to the golden eagle being overhead is about a minute.
Golden eagle overhead
  Overhead, the golden eagle is as large as a house, an incredible sight!
Golden eagle exit
  And then the golden eagle moves away into the distance. Perhaps it will settle in Western Viriginia as a place to pass the winter.

Photo note: I used a Pentax K20D, with the Sigma 150-500mm lens, on December 8, 2011, at Jo Hays Vista on Tussey Mountain, State College, Pennsylvania, for this sequence.

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