Angeline Haslett’s commute is one of the prettiest drives around, in any season.
She gets to meander through a farming valley, over a rugged mountain and alongside rivers, between her home in Harrison Hot Springs and her job as a kindergarten teacher at Sts’ailes Community School.
And that means she gets to drive right through bald eagle territory. It’s a beautiful corner of the world anytime of year, but in the fall and winter when the eagles come to get their fill on the salmon spawning up the Harrison River, the beauty abounds.
And Haslett is often ready with her camera, for those magical moments when good lighting and good timing unite.
“I kicked myself yesterday,” she says, in a phone call with The Progress. “I didn’t have the camera and there were two eagles, and one was coming down with his talons out.”
It’s the type of image that compels Haslett to pull over, grab her gear, and settle in for some time with her latest hobby. She took up photography less than two years ago, when her children had all left home and her time was freed up.
“When your kids finally do move out, you realize it’s time to do something for yourself,” she says. “I did have an interest in photography before, but never did pursue it.”
She had done some SLR work back in university, about 30 years ago. That means she’d been in a darkroom, and understood the processes behind good photography. And years ago, she adds, she did paint — well enough to sell some of her work.
But she still considers herself new to this medium, and so has been pleasantly surprised how quickly her work has gained attention.
Earlier this year, she earned second place for the photo contest run by the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival society, which promotes education and appreciation of the eagles through events, lectures and the annual festival.
Haslett was also one of the winners of a Black Press photography contest from a one-day challenge at the Abbotsford Airshow this August, with her image of fireworks exploding behind a B-25 Mitchell bomber
And this week, Haslett learned more good news. An image she captured downtown Vancouver has won an award from Canadian Geographic, and will be published in that magazine in an upcoming edition.
“I’m delighted, needless to say,” she says.
She hasn’t spent a fortune on photography — yet.
“I’ve started off slow,” she explains. “I still don’t have that great of equipment, and I think the lens I used for that photograph was a 70-300mm Nikon.”
Even the best cameras need an artist’s eye behind it, and when looking for subjects, Haslett has her criteria.
“We need to find something out of the ordinary,” she says, of bird photographers. “It can’t just be a bird in the tree, or a bird flying in the air. It has to be a bird doing something extraordinary, something people don’t always see. It has be be interesting.”
The winning photo this year went to Rick Skerry, of an eagle seeming to look at his own image reflected in water.
And Haslett’s photo, shown above, is an image not just of an eagle preening himself but of the heavy swarm of flies attracted to him. It’s an unusual image, that shows another side of the bald eagle’s existence.
We don’t often think of bald eagles being dirty, she explains. And when chatting with photographers since her photo was chosen, they sometimes tell her they have taken similar photos, with different results.
“They say. ‘I shot photos like that too and deleted them,’” she says, laughing.
She says getting a good shot is made easier if the natural light is just right, and if the eagles are in abundance.
The height of the eagles’ return is during the festival, Nov. 21 and 22, she says.
It’s a great time to photograph the interaction between the eagles and the salmon, but there are learning opportunities, too. The society holds talks throughout the weekend, including a salmon talk with ecologist David Hancock. Visitors will get chance to meet Sonsie, a rehabilitated eagle, and look through scopes aimed at the sensitive “flats” in the middle of the river where the eagles rest and hunt.
It’s important to remember not to encroach on the eagles’ space, to be respectful and mindful of the delicate ecosystem at play.
More information on how to conduct yourself while in the area has been posted at the main areas, and more information about the festival is available on the Fraser Vally Bald Eagle Festival’s website.