I was strolling back down the Chesser Island Boardwalk from the observation tower when I saw a large bird perched faaarrrrrr off in the distance. “Probably just an Anhinga”, I thought. But raising my lens, I saw a brown and white raptor with a brown stripe behind the eye, and so my next thought was “Osprey”. But the more I looked, the more I began to wonder. There was no white on the breast. And as I changed my position, that brown stripe was no longer through the eye, but was a small branch from a limb above the bird. No, it can’t be. A Bald Eagle???
An eagle was the furthest thing from my mind, as I had not previously seen one within the refuge boundaries. Only recently have the Bald Eagles been more and more regular in Georgia. According to the GA Department of Natural Resources, “In the early part of the twentieth century, bald eagles commonly nested along Georgia’s coast and in the Okefenokee Swamp. By the late 1950s, eagle numbers had declined, and the species was no longer considered common in Georgia.”
I took a look at my shots and the LCD screen confirmed my excitement: my first Bald Eagle photographed within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge boundaries! I waiting, hoping it would leave its perch and come my way, but I had to get back to the photography class being hosted at the visitor center.
The following morning, before heading back home, I drove back for one more walk on the Boardwalk. As I was up in the observation tower, a large bird began flying right at me as if it were going to perch in or on the observation tower. It was an Eagle! As it neared, it saw me lifting my lens and banked hard to its left, making a fly-by of the tower and giving me some much better shots. I’m not sure if it was the same individual as the day before or not.
To add to my excitement, I spotted another later in the afternoon. Leaving Chesser Island, I drove over to The Suwannee River Sill Recreation Area on the western side of the swamp. Again, I thought I was photographing just another vulture flying overhead, but the white patches signaled “juvenile Bald Eagle” in my mind and I kept firing away. After so many trips without spotting a Bald Eagle, I now had three within a two day period!