Soaring over Navajo Lake.

Bald eagles of the Four Corners

The Four Corners area is an often overlooked spot for wildlife viewing and photography. People are surprised by the variety and amount of animals that call this area home, spend part of the year or pass through on their migration. Having worked in the area for the past 20 years, I have been able to explore the various habitats and seldom seen spaces. In turn, this has allowed me to encounter many wildlife species that a lot of people, even the locals, aren’t aware of. One of my favorites is our national symbol,
the bald eagle.

Our area is made up of parts of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and supports a good number of bald eagles during the winter time, as well as many full-time residents. I have photographed bald eagles during all parts of the year.

Bald eagle chick in the nest. Brad Ryan Wild Enchantment Photography

Feeding time at the nest. Brad Ryan Wild Enchantment Photography

Few people realize that this area also supports many breeding pairs that nest here year round. Finding an occupied nest can be very exciting and offers the photographer some unique opportunities to capture family behavior. It’s important to remember not to disturb the eagles while they are on the nest; adult eagles will abandon their home it if they feel too much stress, leaving their young eglets behind. Bald eagles nest high in trees; therefore, finding one that you can see into is a real challenge. I typically use my longest lens and a very sturdy tripod because I am shooting from pretty far away so as not to disturb them. I have found two nests in the area that offer some great photographic opportunities.

Whether you are photographing eagles on the nest or wintering birds it usually pays off to spend time watching them and getting to know their habits. I have found that they typically have a favorite perch to land upon and if you take the time to figure that out you will have an opportunity to set up on that spot and let them come to you.

Young adult. Brad Ryan Wild Enchantment Photography

Cruising for fish. Brad Ryan Wild Enchantment Photography

There is one local eagle that is always on the same tree and is very tolerant of people so you can get very close, as long as you stay in your car. This bird is so comfortable with people that it will sit there for hours, even when you are within 20 feet. It is an awesome opportunity that I regularly take advantage of. I have hundreds of pictures of this eagle sitting in its tree; I feel bad about getting bored with this unbelievable opportunity. I started trying to get more creative and really zoom in on specific parts. I began with the eye because they are incredible when you can really see them up close. I then moved to the talons because they are an incredible expression of this bird’s lethality.

Getting to know the eagles that spend time in this area has given me opportunity to get pictures of parents feeding their young, eagles scrapping with each other and eagles taking off and landing. I still have not caught my “Holy Grail” of shots— the eagle catching a fish— but I am confident that that I will be able to get this picture if I continue to spend time with my local birds. As the famous street photographer Arthur “Weegee” Felling said when asked, “How do you take a great picture?” he answered “f8 and be there.” You will not get the shot if you don’t put in the time.

Close-up of talons. Brad Ryan Wild Enchantment Photography

About Brad Ryan

Brad Ryan was the Corporal in the Farmington Supervisory District for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.