White Tailed Sea Eagles, Poland….

Last December I went to Poland to photograph White Tailed Sea Eagles from a special hide overlooking a feeding station this site was attracting large numbers of eagles during the Winter months. There are already a lot of established sites across Europe for photographing these raptors and everybody has their own personal preference on what site they prefer be it Poland, Hungary, Norway or the Isle Of Mull to name a few but the one thing you cant take away from this site is the volume of birds that visit each morning, One morning I must of counted 20 birds waiting for the to feed.

The trip started with a typical RyanAir problem but for once it wasn’t their fault 5 minutes before I was due to land at Warsaw Modlin the runway was deemed unsafe due to frozen ice and the plane had to reroute to Warsaw Choplin. The problem with this was I had arranged to meet Marcin at Modlin so had to pay 50 euros for a taxi journey back across Poland to the airport where I had arranged to meet Marcin which ended up costing me more than my return flight to Poland. But thankfully Marcin was waiting there and I started my 2 hour drive towards to site I didn’t arrive there until midnight so straight to bed ready for the early start the next morning.

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Sub Adult Male White-tailed eagle

The next morning my alarm sounded at 5am I had no idea what to expect having arrived so late the night before. I was glad to hear a few English voices outside my door when I woke. They filled me in on what to expect over the coming days during breakfast which consisted of large amounts of bread,cheese & meat which was to be my staple diet for the next week. They were leaving that morning and no other English photographers were staying that week so it was the last English voice I heard until the end of the trip. After breakfast Marcin’s driver picked me up early so I could make my way to the hide while it was still dark as not to disturb the birds. As the light started to lift I could make out silhouettes of around 20 eagles waiting to feed. First the ravens and magpies came in to feed while the eagles looked on as soon as one eagle plucked up the courage the rest came in. After that the action was non stop, a lot of aggressive behaviour was being displayed as one bird would try and force the other off the bait. The action was quite difficult to photograph the light was very low so high ISO’s varying from 2500 to 5000 had to be used to give me the shutter speed needed  to freeze the action. This was the first chance I had to really put my new Canon 1DX through its paces and was really impressed with how the camera handled the high ISO’s and how the auto focus locked on. After the initial frenzy which lasted for a few hours the eagles did not return which was a shame because there was some beautiful soft evening light.

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Sub adult on top fighting with adult male below

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Sub adult in flight

The previous day was a great day with plenty of eagle action but what I really wanted was to photograph tthe eagles in the snow. Before I left home I had checked the weather forecast and the snow was predicted to fall at some point over the few days I was there but what I didn’t realise was just how disruptive it would end up being to the trip.

Day 2 followed a similar routine to the first day setting off for the hide before sunrise. But there was a very strong wind that morning and when the light rose there was no eagles to be seen. The snow had began to fall that morning all I needed was the eagles to show but as the day progressed the snow fell heavier and the wind got stronger until it got to the point were I couldn’t see anything out of the hide apart from a blanket of driving snow and not an eagle in sight. The day had sadly become a write off and it didnt fare much better on the third morning I received a text of Marcin at 5.30am telling me we could not get to the hide as all the surrounding roads had been closed due to the heavy snowfall overnight. This was really frustrating as I only had one morning left in the hide due to two days being written off by the weather. Plus it was very difficult passing the time that day being the only one staying at the lodge a few Slovakian photographers did turn up later that day having had to spend the night sleeping in their car because of all the road closures in the area they couldn’t talk any English but were very friendly. I set my alarm for 5am the following morning and had my fingers crossed the roads had been cleared and I could get to the hide again.

Thankfully when I woke I received the all clear from Marcin we could get to the hide I was really looking forward to it as this was my chance to photograph the eagles in the snow.  The activity never reached the fever pitch of day one with very little aggressive behaviour and only individual birds coming in at a time but it was great to have the opportunity to photograph these birds in the snow.

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Sub adult about to land to claim his prize

On the final morning my flight wasn’t until 19:30 so due to losing a full day with the snowstorm Marcin let me use his Buzzard hide for the morning which was gave me a great opportunity to photograph Buzzards in the snow . The hide is set in a stunning setting and I didn’t have to wait to long for the first buzzard to arrive he was very cautious and the second I pressed the shutter he was gone. It was another 15 minute wait before he came back but this time I had learned my lesson and let the bird settle longer this time he stuck around and he allowed me to spend an amazing hour watching and photographing him at close quarters sometimes a rival buzzard come down which allowed for some great photographic opportunities.

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Buzzard confrontation in the snow

Overall it was a frustrating trip at times, but one well worth going. Surprisingly it was the eagles I went to photograph but my favourite morning was with the buzzards they are such beautiful birds and because they are now so common in the UK can be overlooked. A big thanks goes to Marcin Nawrocki for all the hard work he has put in setting up this site.

I am now looking forward to the rest of 2014 when I get to achieve one of my lifelong ambitions of photographing Brown Bears feeding on the salmon run in the great state of Alaska, USA. This year has started well for me having a 10 page portfolio printed in the Lancashire Walks And Wildlife magazine and being approached by the RSPB to help produce a short film about conserving hen harriers and its not the end of January yet.

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Buzzard in the snow

In 2002, there were estimated to be 780 pairs of White-tailed eagles in Poland, now due to rigorous protection and a respect of this Polish emblem, there are now over 1,100 pairs.

Thanks for reading and I hope the rest of 2014 continues how it began!!

 

Kevin Morgan

http://www.kbmwildlife.com/

 

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