It has always been a fascination to me seeing wildlife photographs depicting birds of prey swooping in to catch their food of choice in the wild. I have sat and contemplated how the photographer has managed to place him/herself at the right place at the right time and then got the shot that draws gasps and admiration from their intended audience.
Of particular interest to me is the bird with its talons extended catching a helpless fish. I have seeked to capture this exact image myself but have sadly not been fortunate enough to witness this in the UK for a multitude of reasons, the main one being that our skies are rarely dominated by such forces of nature….Africa on the other hand…..well that’s a different case:
This Easter I returned to Kenya for the first time since my road traffic accident of 2012. My expectations were more realistic this time around as I knew I would be travelling with a new disability. As ever though, it rarely stops me from pushing myself to and beyond my limits. One of my dreams this time around was to try and capture an Eagle fishing in the wild. I spoke in great detail to my guides prior to my arrival and they helped me with my desire to witness this act from behind my lens.
The guide drove me to the vast lake that would be my home for the next two days and enthused when he described that this area was rich in bird life…specifically the African Fish Eagle! The name alone pumped increased adrenaline through my veins. This was the exact feathered warrior I had imagined in my head. Strong, elegant…a silent assassin.
As we reached the shoreline I noticed many of the locals, most of them completely naked bathing and washing in the shallows.This was a humbling experience for me, seeing people derive such pleasure from the simplest things put my life in perspective.
I glanced at them in wonder as they poured water over themselves with beaming smiles on they’re faces. The sun was fierce and the light bounced of the water like sugar raining down. There were small man-made boats with fisherman slowly paddling through the calm waters in search of the catch of the day. I walked to the shoreline and boldly asked one of the fisherman how many fish he would normally catch in one day and what the net worth ( no pun intended…honest) would be.
Once this information had been relayed to me I decided to try my unusual bartering tactic. I said that I would offer him double his daily takings if he would be as so kind to take me out with him in his balsa wood craft to fish, but instead of bringing the fish back to land we would instead try to entice the Eagles with them whilst fishing. He looked at me with utter confusion….why on earth would this strange man want to feed the Eagles with his catch? He thought about my proposal for a few minutes and then simply shook my hand, smiled and beckoned me towards his vessel.
My guide stood on the shore and wished me luck as my new friend and I climbed into the raft and started our voyage to locate our scaled bait.
We had gone no more than 10 feet when I noticed a small Crocodile near us. I asked him if this was a good idea, he laughed and told me that it’s the Hippos that are a problem….not some prehistoric, razor toothed predator. I was uneasy. I turned around, looking back at the locals all washing and playing up to they’re waist’s in water with Crocodiles in close vicinity. Where they crazy? Who would put themselves so close to danger for such little apparent gain?….oh yeah….me!
As we paddled through the waters my fisherman friend cast out some very rudimentary nets and we then stopped and just sat there and waited. He lit up a cigarette and lay back absorbing the rays beating down upon us. It was at this point that I realised I had no hat for protection and was going to burn to a crisp. I hoped that the fish would speedily be seduced by the traps set forth and we could seek out the Eagles. After an hour or so, he reeled in the nets and many fish had succumb to our net.
I have never witnessed first hand, the process of ending these poor fishes lives and being only two feet from it was distressing for me. I love all forms of nature and whilst I accept and appreciate that one life is lost for another to survive, I still struggle seeing it sometimes.
With our boat now full of fish we continued to navigate the serene waters, in search of the Fish Eagles. I could see them in the trees on the banks, they’re black lower bodies in stark contrast to the white upper body and head. Even at a distance they stood out in the trees overhanging the waters. We slowly approached and they swooped towards us.
My guide threw a few fish back into the water and I sat in awe as the Eagles locked onto the prey and with a final beat of the wings soared in and snatched the fish in its talons.
To see this first hand is hard to describe really. Silent, primal yet exhilarating also. I was overjoyed….my friend less enamoured, still confused as to my fascination with the local nature but equally obliging to help.
I got my camera out and turned up the shutter speed in order to try and freeze this moment in time and hopefully get a shot like I had dreamed of for so long. Many wildlife photographers will tell you that the success comes with patience and they are not wrong. It is always when you give up, turn your back, lower your lens or look away that nature surprises you. It’s like they almost know and tease you for your lack of faith.
For the next 6 or so hours I saw maybe 12 different African Fish Eagles and reeled off hundreds of shots as they gained our trust and came in to fish literally feet from us.
To be continued……
Graham Seaholme is an Award Winning Professional Nature Photographer based in the United Kingdom. He travels extensively around the world photographing nature in its purest forms.
Find more about Graham @ www.lifefrozen.com