My mum drilled it into us from an early age: “You have got to get outdoors every day; it’s good for your body and especially for your mind.”

She wasn’t a photographer but she loved nature. As a young child growing up in England we went for walks near Allesley Hall Estate in Coventry where I was born. Every week our family sat in front of the telly watching ‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’. Chance encounters with wildlife to this day serve as motivation to get outdoors. And it is especially good for the mind.

My kids, who all practice yoga, have conceded that my time in the field is arguably just as meditative as a yoga class. No phones, no technology – apart from my trusty Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm lens – time away from city life.

There’s a bald eagle nest along the Nith River about a fifteen minute drive from my home. An afternoon there searching for the eagles as they fish or simply perch in their favourite trees is always time well spent. It makes a nice change from driving up to ‘snowy owl country’ where I have been a frequent visitor these past few months. On Tuesday I decided to try my luck. It turned out to be a special day.

When I arrived at the nest the eagles were not there. So I hiked up river a kilometre or so taking a look at a couple of places I have seen them fishing from. There was a group of Canada geese sitting on the ice and the resident, very shy, Great Blue Heron, but no eagles. I turned around and headed back towards the nest.

I spotted movement along the river bank and realized a beaver had slipped into the water near where I was standing. It swam slowly down the river with its eyes focused on me.

I stood in my position at river’s edge and watched the beaver shake itself off then walk up the snowy embankment. It was soon joined by its mate and the pair set about chewing branches they had gathered. The first beaver brought a branch into the river and swam down stream a ways.

My observation was interrupted by the sound of a downy woodpecker going to town on a nearby tree. As it hammered away it whistled. Whistle while you work? All the while I kept a look out for the eagles that I had almost forgotten were my primary objective.

Watching the woodpecker and the two beavers going about their business was fascinating and if the eagles never showed up, well, the excursion was already an enjoyable experience.

This tranquility was interrupted, however, by the sound of something crashing through the brush on the other side of the river. I caught sight of a deer, maybe the same one I had seen a couple of weeks ago, running down the steep embankment to the water. I guessed where it might emerge so I could get a clear shot.

To my delight it was a male with antlers and he appeared next to the river and only about thirty metres from where the beavers were plying their trade. He turned to look at me and I captured a few images as he briefly stopped there. Then he vanished into the woods again. What an afternoon I was having. Then more magic happened.

One of the eagles came back towards the nest and suddenly and spectacularly broke through a tree branch and tumbled, yes tumbled, into the undergrowth. I don’t know if it had dropped prey or had spotted something delectable but it wound up on the river bank. Regaining his composure he flew to a tree branch that jutted out over the river and perched there. I waited for him to take off and he flew towards me and up to another tree branch.

Although the light wasn’t the best I managed a few shots of him flying towards me from a couple of different positions. I watched the female sitting on a branch for some time but she wasn’t in any hurry to leave. As I was shooting at ISO 3200 by this point I figured I wasn’t going to get any more useful images and looking at my watch decided it was time to trudge through the snow back to my car.

Three and a half hours had gone by very quickly and, all in all, it was a most productive afternoon. It was good for the body and especially for the mind. My point is you never know what you might experience if you go for a walk with nature.

17 Comments

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hey Andrew, yes the weather has been topsy turvy and I like it cold for the snowy owls. Wandering across farmers’ fields in the mud is not as much fun. LOL! The eagles were a pleasant surprise yesterday.

  1. Andrew

    …how does one spell ‘apropos?’…meandering out at the farm yesterday following tracks in the snow and greeting ‘tenants’ who have a made a winter home in the big barn…lacking only the meditative company of a good lens and tuiton from the Paul Gains wildlife photography course…cheers,

    1. Paul E Gains

      Thanks Martin! Hope you are out there getting some shots of eagles and such. Not sure where the Brantford pair have gone but a couple of weeks ago while driving north to Sudbury I counted 5 adult bald eagles from the hwy 400! They are certainly around.

  2. What a fantastic day outside. Paul, the shots are incredible. Even though the lighting wasn’t great (I can’t tell) the images inspire me to get outside. We have eagles hunting up and down the river near our house – downtown Galt! Nature is right here but if we don’t get out there and look for it we will miss all of it. Just a few weeks ago Leigh spotted over a dozen swans – at least one juvenile – upriver from us. What a majestic site! Thanks for sharing not only your images but your stories with us.

  3. Claus Andersen

    Paul .. very nice and very good food for thought … we need to definitely get out more in society in general … I know that I try to get out a bit as well and it definitely helps with ones mental outlook … totally agree with you! .. Claus

  4. Pat Butcher

    Congratulations, Paul, on ‘reinventing’ yourself. If we can no longer go on 20+ mile cross country runs which are, in themselves a sort of communing with nature, and a great contribution to mental equilibrium, then you’ve found a more than adequate replacement. I just heard on the morning news here in the UK that an unprecedented number of blue whales, an endangered species have been discovered in the waters around south Georgia. Your new ‘hobby’/work is a valuable contribution to the movement to consider the value of nature and our fellow inhabitants of the planet.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Thanks, Pat. Yes, my days of running in the mountains of Colorado or on Canadian country roads are behind me. Cycling (in 3 seasons) is wonderful but I am unable to carry my camera OR most importantly, linger in one spot for hours waiting to see what wildlife turns up. The past seven years, with the help of my Nikon cameras, has been wildlife focused. Not sure I have any more Olympics in me. But after finishing my work for CBC at Rio Olympics I couldn’t wait to fly to Cuiaba and traverse the Brazilian Pantanal looking for jaguars. It resulted in two magazine assignments and the realization that some things I am more passionate about than others. Wildlife rocks!!!!!

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