Xmas Eagle

eagle over the rio grande

Snatched out of the sky from hundreds of feet away via 300mm telephoto lens

We were celebrating our own New Mexico Christmas by driving beside the Rio Grande north of Pilar, creeping along at fifteen miles per hour in second gear the way I do with no traffic when I’m looking to be surprised. As we approached a spot to pull off the road facing the river by an old gaging station, something happened and I did, parking some distance above the water. This was quite spontaneous. I turned my head left to look downstream and was startled to be looking damn near right into the face of a huge bald eagle humping its way up north: slow flap, slow flap, glide…slow flap, slow flap, glide…

My wife was in shock, too. The eagle was so close, maybe thirty feet away, and flew right past us just a degrees above eye level. I knew not to reach for my camera in the back seat. This was a moment for direct experience, and we drank it in. I’ve never had a closer, longer meet-up with an eagle. And then we lost it. I got out of the car to take a better look.

“Over there! In the eagle tree!”

It was true. Some years before we’d seen a bald eagle sitting in a dead ponderosa pine on the east side of the canyon. I named the perch the “eagle tree,” and there we were again, but the bird didn’t stay long. For the next ten minutes at least, it swooped and circled overhead, crossing from one side of the canyon to the other, grazing the rim and skimming the slopes, then soared higher and higher until we finally did lose sight of it, never once flapping its wings that I could see. Ten full minutes of eagle medicine in the face! I get crazy high just thinking of it.

Something made me turn off the road. We were meant to be there, obviously. In the wild, these things happen all the time.

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John Hamilton Farr lives at 7,000 feet in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it, John is “a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” This JHFARR.COM site is the master writing archive. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page. For a complete list of all John’s writing, photography, NFTs, and social media links, please visit JHFARR.ART  

  • Marti Fenton Koleski December 28, 2017, 10:34 PM

    We look for that eagle every time we are in the canyon. What a great shot. Her mate was killed last year and now she is alone. For several months we didn’t see her–so glad she is back.

    • JHF December 28, 2017, 11:44 PM

      Well, I did take a couple photos of the tree while the eagle was in it. We were pretty far away, so even with the telephoto lens, I couldn’t tell much. But last night I looked more closely at the two images I have (of the tree) and saw there were two eagles there, close together… I don’t know which one of them flew away, or whether both of them did. We only saw one in the air, and at the time (and as I wrote above), I didn’t realize there were two.

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