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.