It’s not yet dawn, and the world is still. In the stone quiet, Tim Badgwell waits, camera by his side, listening to the gurgling lull of the nearby creek. Right on cue, the sun peeks its head over the horizon, and the moment he has waited for begins––the golden hour. About 60 yards away, high in the trees, a bald eagle’s nest sits bathed in the morning glow. He raises his camera; time to begin.
For the next two and a half hours, he photographs the mated bald eagles as they come and go, caring for their two alert and fluffy newborns in the nest. He calls this early morning time the “magic hour,” when the light is clear, sharp, illuminating every detail from the outline of a single feather down to the glinting expressions in the eagle’s eyes.
For three days, Tim makes this same pre-dawn journey to seek out the eagles. It’s the closest he’s ever been able to get to them, but it’s plenty close enough. “If I got within 30 feet of them,” he reveals, “my heart would probably stop.” Eagles are a protected species as well, so while it’s thrilling to get a little closer, it’s equally important not to get too close.
When asked what he’s learned during his three days spent photographing this bald eagle family, Tim simply replies: “You can plan, you can wait, and you can plan some more, but I’ll take luck over anything. There’s joy in the moments I’ve spent taking these photos, but there’s long-lasting pleasure in being able to share these photos with others who might not otherwise have a chance to see this eagle family.”
Looking at a photo, it’s easy to think of it as the product of a moment, which, technically speaking, it is, but these eagle photos have been more than a year in the making.
“Around two years ago, Doug Oliver, who got me started in digital photography and who I consider to be my mentor, told me about a nest he could see from the main road,” Tim shared when asked about how he even knew where to find these bald eagles. “My wife and I grabbed our binoculars, drove to the spot, and sure enough, there they were.” The catch? The nest was around 200 yards away. Not exactly ideal for photography.
If there’s one characteristic that the best photographers share, it’s patience. Last year, Tim got permission to enter the gated area with access to the old farm road where he was invited to sit and clearly see the eagle’s nest. Still, no luck that year.
Then, two weeks ago, he got the call. The eagles had returned.
Bald Eagles are a species that mate for life and each year return to their original nests. These particular eagles have been living in this same field for around 10 years, according to Tim. When their original tree was struck by lightning, they moved and rebuilt their nest in another nearby tree, around 40 yards away. Like us, eagles make renovations to their homes, repairing, patching, and even adding on until the nests reach 10 feet across, weighing upwards of 500 pounds.
Tim captures the moment one of the baby eaglets raises its fuzzy gray head to look expectantly at mom. “Even though I had planned it, the excitement of seeing these magnificent animals relatively close,” Tim pauses for a moment, “takes your breath away.”
I can’t help but ask, do you ever want to put the camera away? Simply sit and watch the eagles?
“The photos let me re-live those moments, each one reminding me of a memory I might not have re-visited otherwise. And what’s even better? Sharing those experiences and moments with someone else.” For Tim, a photograph is like a song. It moves you. Just as a song can evoke emotions, a photo, the first time you look at it, stirs you in a way that only art and nature can.