Okay, so a quick explanation to help you understand how all these eagle photographs came to be and how they represent the symbiotic relationship that humans can achieve with wildlife.
First, a little background to explain how I came to be in a position to take these photos. My summers are spent running my own organic farm. This leaves me with winters that are quiet and devoid of income. Several years ago I found a job at a local fish farm that allowed me to work whatever months I wanted to each winter while taking summers off to do “my own thing”. Since then I have been blissfully admiring these stunning birds while compiling a decent library of photographs as part of my daily “job”.
The Fish Farm
And this brings us to a brief description of the evolution of the fish farm over the years. While it is popular in the media to trash fish farms, the reality is that wild fish populations cannot sustain the current rate of exploitation. Like all of our other food supplies, fish need to be produced in controlled conditions if we are to include them in our diets over the long term. From an environmental perspective this can be an utter disaster, or, as is the case at the fish farm where I spend my winters, environmental concerns can be embraced and become one of the basic tenets of the business. At this fish farm, water quality testing and lake substrate monitoring are conducted on a rigid schedule. Various layers of government are deeply involved in monitoring this process and ensuring that impacts on the local environment are minimal. In fact, the most biodiverse portion of the lake where the fish farm is located can be found in the immediate vicinity of the cage system. Over the years the farm has transitioned to become a fully certified organic venture.
One of the biggest issues that faced the fish farm over the years was the waste that was created. When fish (or any other raw food product) are sent for processing, a certain amount of waste (offal) is generated. In the case of fish it is about one third to one half of the gross weight. Not only does this waste cost money to produce, it has also been traditionally sent to landfill sites. Some of the cleaner offal can be directed into pet food products but the majority is not. A plan was developed at the fish farm to request the return of all offal produced through the processing of our fish. Once we were able to establish a steady stream of returning offal, we contracted with local sawmills to purchase clean waste sawdust. These two products are mixed and aged through a proprietary process on site to produce an organic fish based compost that can be used in the production of fruits and vegetables (I use the compost extensively on my own organic farm). We have supplied garden centers from coast to coast and the feed back has been extremely positive. There is now essentially a zero waste scenario on the fish farm. As great as this already sounds, there have been some other extraordinary and unplanned positive outcomes from this composting effort.
Anyone who is familiar with eagles will be aware that they are heavy fish consumers. They are also quite opportunistic and prefer to scavenge than to hunt. Imagine a scenario where tons of relatively fresh fish waste is suddenly available. It did not take long for area bald eagles to clue into the free lunch that was being put out for them on an almost daily basis through the winter. This is a time when northern lakes are buried under ice and snow so eagles already face very slim pickings. Much as people put out bird feeders to help song birds through the brutal winters, we have unwittingly created a large bird feeder that appeals to a much larger winged friend. We are to the point now that up to twenty five eagles can be seen on the fish farm at any given time. While many other birds find the free buffet equally inviting, the eagles are by far the most fascinating of our annual visitors. Once spring rolls around the eagles leave just as mysteriously as they showed up to establish nests and raise their young. We see the female eagles return to the farm each fall with one or two yearling chicks in tow and the cycle starts again. We have become a part of each others’ lives through purely serendipitous events.