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Photo hunting for eagles in Belarus

Author: S. Plytkevich
Photo: by author

We are starting a new category on the portal planetabelarus.by. Its essence is a professional look at tourist routes and initiatives, an assessment of the pros and cons of new proposals, an attempt to make a forecast – whether the project will be successful or fail.

The first article is about an unusual photo tour, which is offered by the eco-barn "Goblin’s Cabin" in "Paozyorie" reserve (“Krasny Bor”) in the very north of Belarus.

The owner of the this resort Dmitry Shamovich is a biologist engaged in scientific activities; he actively introduces various novelties to the Belarusian tourism.

Here are the pictures of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and foxes that I took from Mr. Shamovich's tent in February 2008.

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The conditions for photography, of course, were spartan, but the result was more important to me.

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For the next photo season, Dima sewed this portable photo ambush.

White-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) photographed from this tent in 2010.

During the same photo session, it became possible to record the moment when the crows were pulling the eagle's tail. This happened on frosty days, when the meat got too frozen, and the crows ' beaks could not tear it off. Then the crows pulled the tail of an eagle who had a more powerful beak. The big bird of prey waved crows away loosing pieces of meat in the process. And the crows picked them up…

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In 2011Mr Shamovich improved his photo cabin, making it possible to install two cameras. A year later he built a real stationary small hut for photographing, in which one photographer could work comfortably. 

But experience has shown that photographers often come in small groups. And then there is a problem of who will be the first to take pictures, who will be the second, and what to do with those guests who did not get a place in the ambushing hut.

And Mr. Shamovich took a cardinal step – he built a four-person house for photo hunting. It provides eight photo frames – in case each photographer has two cameras.

Here are the pictures taken from the new cabin.

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Attention is drawn to the colorful dry pine, which has already become the hallmark of this natural photo studio. It is clear that the owner had installed it there on purpose: to supply the birds of prey with a place to sit, and to ensure that the shots will be as effective as possible.

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But those preparations do not give any guarantee of the success! There were cases when some photographers were sitting in this freewill “jail” for six days in a row and did not make a single decent shot. I myself have spent five fruitless days in this hut over the years, and I know very well that too much depends on luck, the weather, your own behavior in the ambush, as well as on the behavior of the eagles and ravens.

To see a wild golden eagle in wildlife is not that easy. This largest and most secretive eagle of Europe, has a solitary lifestyle, trying to avoid contact with humans in every way. The golden eagle is a large bird, its wingspan can reach two to two and a half meters (from 6 to more than 8 ft), and therefore it hunts quite large prey-from hares to foxes and fawns. In winter golden eagles willingly feed on carrion, and this makes it possible to attract them in the cold season. Belarus has some places where the golden eagle is a common bird. 

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Our last expert photo shoot took place on January 23, 2021. It was more successful than ever. Four white-tailed eagles and a golden eagle have arrived at the bait!

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The first young white-tailed eagle appeared almost immediately after dawn and did not leave the bait for the whole day.

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The mature white-tailed eagles arrived at lunchtime. Surprisingly, the young bird was stronger and bolder than the newcomers.

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The young eagle repeatedly drove away the old ones from eating, something like small fights was taking place, and allowed us to make good shots.

Thanks to these collisions and movements, I was able to get photos of the eagles in flight.

Such shots can only be made from sitting still, when the birds do not see that they are being watched, and live their normal lives.

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By the end of the day a golden eagle had approached the bait twice. It was obvious that it was the strongest bird here – the white-tailed eagles and crows disappeared instantly. But ... the golden eagle didn’t touch the food. Quite possibly because of me, or rather, because of the sound of my camera.

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Usually, when a bird of prey shows up at the bait, you wait for it to start eating – and only then start shooting. Because by only one click of the shutter one can scare off a cautious bird and disrupt the entire photo hunting. But when you get into the excitement and keep shooting the white-tailed eagles without a stop while they do not react to it – then you automatically record the golden eagle as well. And it flies away…

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In my case, I had to limit myself by white-tailed eagles only, and promise myself that I would be more careful next time.

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But let’s return to the ambush hut of Mr. Shamovich. He tried to create the most comfortable conditions for his customers.

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This is what the shooting cabin looks like from the inside: chairs and armchairs for photographers, a shelf for hands with special devices for lenses instead of tripods.

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There is a cot where you can relax, and a gas heater if it suddenly gets cold.

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There’s also a stationary toilet. This has fundamentally increased the comfort of photo hunting: photographers can come to the cabin when it’s still dark in the morning and stay shooting until the evening. The presence of a toilet allowed to solve the problem of simultaneous photography by men and women.

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In addition, Mr. Shamovich installed a camera at the bait, which transmits information to the phone. You can always see what time the birds usually arrive, whether there are interesting birds near the hut at the moment.

Here are the living conditions in the eco-barn "Gonlin’s cabin".

This is how one of the rooms of the estate looks like.

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A lobby where you can discuss the results of the day with your colleagues and determine your strategy for tomorrow.

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The estate itself is located on the banks of the Svolna River, on the outskirts of the former village of Sosnovy Bor. There is only a couple of houses left from that village, so we can say that complete solitude is possible on the "Goblin’s Cabin".

Spring is here working banding Pine forest, close to bank of the river an ambush for photographing beavers, otters and mink is made; three hundred meters away there’s an ambush for photo hunting on raccoon dogs, and across the river Mr. Shamovich puts a bait for the owls. But we will tell you about these types of photo hunting later.

Helpful information
Photo hunt for eagles at the "Goblin’s cabin” eco-barn.

Distance from Minsk - 280 km.

Distance from Vitebsk - 180 km.

Distance from the road to the photo hut - 2 km.

The possible number of photo hunters is 4.

The season for photo hunting is December-March.

Possible models – white-tailed eagle, golden eagle, goshawk, raven, and jay.

The probability of a successful photo shoot is 50-80%.

The cost of one day of photography without accommodation: one person in a sitting room – 50 euros, two people-75 euros, three people-85 euros, four people-100 euros.

The cost of living is 25 euros for a double room.

The cost of three meals a day is 20 euros per day.

Translated by M. Shaturin


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