On an early October morning, I woke up well before sunrise, grabbed my camera and drove the almost hour drive to my parent's house to meet up with my father for an early morning of bird photography. I arrived at his house a bit before the sun had crested over the horizon, the sky was beginning to glow. We grabbed all of his camera gear and off we went to Tuckahoe - Corbin City Wildlife Management Area in southern New Jersey.
We had been to this area before but not specifically this road that is about a 6 mile drive out into the marsh and wetlands of the area. When we first arrived the sun was just starting to warm up the day and there were a few spots of low hanging fog out in the marsh. The first thing we noticed was how incredibly calm it was on this particular morning, which is certainly a rare occurrence in such an open area.
As we drove along and exited the wooded area at the start and moved into the open marsh we noticed a small group of Mute Swans. At first we could not get a clear view due to the tall marsh grasses but we found an opening and the pair of adult swans had a single young gray swan with them. The early morning sun was lighting them up perfectly and the calm morning gave us a great reflection on the water. A great start to what would become one of our best mornings out in quite some time.
After a few minutes with the beautiful swans they had enough of us and swam off. Next we spotted a pair of Pied-billed Grebes (above) who completely ignored our presence and then we had our first Bald Eagle sighting of the day. We first noticed one adult flying pretty high and far out in the open water, then another, then another. Three beautiful adult Bald Eagles were circling around one particular spot in the water. They were all pretty far out, a bit too far for decent photos so we mostly watched these magnificent birds.
Suddenly one of them swooped down at the water but came up empty, a missed attempt. One of the other eagles made a dive and again a miss. We watched a few attempts at whatever was under the water and each time the eagle came up with nothing in its talons. Finally one of the birds really committed and dove in deep. It actually sat in the water for almost 30 seconds, it was very strange as we had never seen an eagle just sit in the water like this. My father and I both ended up laughing since it looked pretty funny from our angle, all you could see was the eagle's tail high in the air! The eagle finally lifted off from the water and flew away, again nothing in its talons. The trio of Bald Eagles finally gave up on whatever they were after and dispersed, so we moved on.
We stumbled into a small group of sparrows along with one Common Yellowthroat (pictured above) and I took a few scenic photos with my iPhone. The 500mm lens on my camera wasn't the best for the beautiful scenery.
After we spent about 15-20 minutes with the group of tiny songbirds, we began to move along again. We drove into view of another large open area of water and we spotted another Bald Eagle flying on the opposite side, really far away. It appeared to be flying towards us so I immediately hopped out of the car and my father and I both got ready, hoping for a somewhat close fly over.
As it came in closer I remember calling out my excitement, "dad, it's coming closer, even closer, now it's spiraling!" I still can't believe how lucky we were on this morning but for some reason this Bald Eagle spotted something in the water directly in front of us and began to spiral lower and lower right in front of us. It was still early enough that the sunlight was lighting up the bird wonderfully and each time it would spiral around it got lower and closer to us, our cameras both taking photos as fast as they could. Suddenly the eagle made a hard bank right and dove in for a grab at something in the water. The eagle could have flown down in any direction but it decided to fly a pattern that went directly parallel to the road we were sitting on and gave us a perfect view of the entire sequence. We both mashed down our camera shutter buttons and didn't let up until the sequence was done. Another failed attempt for the eagle but certainly not for us!
My adrenaline was pumping and as many photographers may relate, my first thoughts were, "I hope I had the settings right, I hope these are in focus, I hope I didn't screw this up." It turned out that I didn't screw it up and I scored one of my favorite Bald Eagle fishing sequences I have ever taken. Everything came together on this one, the eagle was close, the light was wonderful, the morning was calm and gave great reflections, it all just worked out. It definitely took me a few minutes to calm down but I know I had a smile on my face all morning long just from this experience.
A little while later we came upon another group of Mute Swans who also put on a show for us, including some incredibly close fly-by opportunities and a quite hilarious landing sequence. They are beautiful birds but not the most graceful looking when they take off or land on the water.
We ended the day with a single Ruddy Duck (pictured below) which was my first sighting of this bird for the year. I usually don't see these ducks until further into the winter, I guess it was a sign that winter is on its way but it was a great ending to an amazing morning.