Another winter trip to Reelfoot Lake (a.k.a. Quake Lake) in extreme NW Tennessee met with, as always it seems, mixed results. This was our third attempt to find wintering/migrating eagles and other waterfowl at the lake - something it is known for. Fortunately for us, it is also known to have nesting pair eagles; so even if you don't see the mass migration (numbers vary WILDLY from 200 to 700+) there is always something to see and photograph. It is also known for having very cold temperatures around a surprisingly shallow lake, so when the winds are high, as they were the day before we arrived, you get these wonderful ice formations in the trees next to the lake.
Of course, that brings us to Images 1-1 thru 1-3 that show some of these formations. We arrived early enough in the day that even the bright blue sky did little to start the thawing of these beautiful ice trees. Some of these are so large it's hard to understand how the branches remained intact instead of breaking off with the weight of the ice. For scale, Mimi volunteered to stand in front of one of the trees to show the size of these formations (1-2) and Image 1-3 shows a bit of the scope of the effect. I don't think we actually saw reports of the wind speeds, but the forecast was for 1 to 3 inches of snow and winds around 30 mpg. I believe it!
Yes, there were eagles present. A pair can be seen in Image 1-4 seemingly having a morning conversation (or stare-down). The eagle seen in Image 1-5 shows the color change near the end of the day with failing light for illumination. That was the last shot of Day 1.
We were up early the next morning and had beautiful light to work with. We went back down to where the ice trees were located. While the ice was intriguing, we saw dozens of House Finches foraging in the trees nearly oblivious to our presence. We stayed in the car and moved slightly from time to time to reposition our "mobile blind" and got some really nice shots with beautiful morning light (1-6). After we had our fill of finches, we started making our way around the lake to explore. We saw a couple of eagles up on Levee Road - a very common location for them to be. The levee is a 20 or 30 foot high earthen barrier to help keep the Mississippi River from flooding the areas around the lake. It's always interesting to see not only the eagles from this road but also the Mississippi River with its large barges, which are in part the reason for the eagles since they keep the Mississippi from freezing over and blocking the eagles' food source.
Later that morning we found ourselves at the northeast corner of the lake heading down to an observation platform, but the road also winds through streams and flooded flats. With the cold temperatures and winds most of the shallow water areas were frozen over and made for some very interesting patterns (Images 1-8 and 1-9). Unfortunately these conditions did not lead to many bird sightings, but it was still beautiful.
Although the beautiful white pelicans we have seen and photographed here in the past had already left, we were treated to a couple of locations that were simply overrun with thousands of snow geese. We were able to get off of the main road and sit at the edge of a field that was a magnet for them, and it was so interesting to see the comings and goings of such large numbers of them. (Images 1-10 and 11) Although we know they can be targets for the eagles, I think they find safety in numbers, and I don't think we've ever seen just a few here and there - always very large numbers. I know I wouldn't take on a few thousand of them! We had great light and plenty of time so without some of the other subjects we photograph, I spent a lot of time shooting geese. I tried both tight and wide compositions as well as varying shutter speeds seeing if I could get an artistic look with some blurring rather than having everything tack sharp. I'm still evaluating the shots and have a lot of deleting yet to do but Image 1-12 was an attempt to get some blur without it simply looking like a bad shot. I'm not sure this is the look I was after.
Later that afternoon we went to an area we know has been a good spot for ducks, geese, and eagles around sunset. It is a large wetland/field (depending on how much rain they have had, and in this case LOTS) with a very nice multi-level observation platform. It's nice to get an elevated view; but the wind was ferocious and the temperatures were far from recovering so it was a challenge to stay out there. But, I persevered for a while and got to see dozens upon dozens of flocks of mainly snow geese coming in to roost for the night. It was really interesting to see the variety of formations, mainly the stereotypical "V-formation" (Image 1-13) which was so different than the "gaggles of geese" that we had seen earlier in the day.
In an adjacent field, we were lucky to see a trio of immature bald eagles (Image 1-14) , and while we have seen them at Reelfoot before, my sense was that these were some of the migrating eagles (maybe the advance party). They just seemed new/out of place. It was interesting to see the interaction with the one eagle on the left simply observing what was going on and the sparing that was going on between the other two eagles over what we could tell was a dead (but uncooked) goose at the edge of the water. Although they were probably 1,000 yards away they didn't seem to appreciate our presence; and while we did not move toward them, they decided to fly away within a minute or so after our arrival. Too bad, as I would have liked to have seen the end of the spat.
A few shots to finish up this trip include another flying group of geese - this time closer to sunset when the sky and color of light were changing rapidly (Image 1-15). Image 1-16 is the side of one of the commercial silos in Tiptonville that we had seen earlier in the day. It had such interesting vine/vegetation growth I just had to shoot it. I was hoping for some really interesting light, but it just didn't materialize while we were there. Maybe the next time! Image 1-17 shows some of the snow geese flying in smaller numbers after the sun has set but the sky is still aglow. And, like us by this time, the eagle in Image 1-18 is poised to take off for destinations unknown. Well, actually for us, the destination was to be our home in Dawsonville. We were supposed to stay another two days, but with the lack of abundance of wildlife and an approaching storm, we felt it was best to get home and back to work.
When dealing with weather, light, wildlife and a whole host of other variables, few trips ever materialize as they might have been scripted or conjured up in our minds but every adventure/opportunity we have to do our shooting and exploring is well worth the time/effort. Until the next time...