These remarkable pictures and commentary arrived via email. Various Internet sites have identified the professional photographer as Gary Wheeler of Lake Tapps, Washington, and the “duck” as an American Coot.
Thanks, Mr. Wheeler, for the incredible story-telling photographs!
“I was walking along the shore of Lake Tapps on Monday, and noticed a big commotion a little more than 1/4-mile away (as measured later by Google Earth). I saw a Bald Eagle circling and repeatedly diving on what I thought must be a school of fish. Soon he was joined by another Eagle and they began to fight each other for the prey. Territorial Eagle fights do happen, but I’ve never seen one, nor have I seen any good photos…
Naturally, I grabbed my camera. The action was so furious and far away that it was hard to see if I was getting any good photos. So I just snapped lots pics and hoped for the best. I didn’t quite realize what I was watching, until I got home and looked at the pics on my computer. It turned out I had photographed a three-way life & death struggle between two mature Bald Eagles fighting over one very frightened duck! The Eagles fought each other for several minutes while trying to get that duck! It was like WWIII in the air!
All these pics were taken hand-held with my Panasonic FZ-28 at 18X zoom which is 486mm. All pics were taken on Intelligent Automatic which is just point-and-shoot. I had previously selected okay up to ISO=400 and it was a bright day, which is as good way to force the shutter speed to 1/500 sec. to 1/1000 sec. for all the shots even though the camera performed everything automatically.
Most of the images were cropped to a small fraction of their original size which effectively multiplies that Optical Focal Length of 486mm by the ratio of: original image width ÷ cropped image width. The action was over 1/4-mile away, and I ended up with effective Focal Lengths of well over 1,000mm for half the pics shown here, so they are not up to my normal standards of image quality. Nevertheless, they are exciting and tell quite a story…
The fellow sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck never realized the show he was missing. (620 mm effective Focal Length)
The little duck watches as the Eagle speeds straight at him at about 40 mph. (760 mm effective Focal Length)
With perfect timing, the duck always dove and escaped with as mighty splash! Then he’d pop to the surface as soon as the Eagle flew past. This was repeated over and over for several minutes. I worried the poor duck would tire and that would be the end of him. (1,040 mm effective Focal Length)
A second Eagle joins the attack! The duck kept diving “just in time”, so the Eagles began to dive into the water after him! (1,150 mm effective Focal Length)
After several minutes the Eagles got frustrated and began to attack each other. They soon began to dive vertically, level out, and attack head-on in a good old-fashioned game of high-speed “Chicken”. Sometimes they banked away from each other at the last possible second. Other times they’d climb vertically and tear into each other while falling back toward the water. (The duck catches his breath at the right side of this picture.) (900 mm effective Focal Length)
A terrible miscalculation! The luckiest shot of my life catches this 100 mph head-on collision between two Bald Eagles. (1,320 mm effective Focal Length)
One Eagle stayed aloft and flew away, but the other lies motionless in a crumpled heap. The lucky duck survived to live another day. (486 mm effective Focal Length)
It’s sad to watch an Eagle drown. He wiggled, flapped and struggled mostly underwater. He finally got his head above water and with great difficulty managed to get airborne. To my astonishment, he flew straight toward me, and it was the most wretched and unstable bird flight I’ve ever seen! (620 mm effective Focal Length)
The bedraggled Eagle circled me once – then lit atop a nearby fir tree. He had a six-foot wingspread and looked mighty angry. I was concerned that I might be his next target, but he was so exhausted he just stared at me. Then I wondered if he would topple to the ground. As he tried to dry his feathers, it seemed to me that this beleaguered Eagle symbolized America in its current trials. (1,200 mm effective Focal Length)
My half-hour wait was rewarded with this marvelous sight. He flew away, almost good as new. May America recover as well. (1,400 mm effective Focal Length)”