It’s that time of year at Smith Rock State Park when the resident bald eagles have mouths to feed in the nest. Three chicks have hatched this year — a rarity for eagles.
George Lepp, a Bend wildlife photographer, has been recording nature for more than half a century and taking pictures of this nest for the last decade.
“The first time I came here I didn’t even have a camera with me a friend brought me here to show it to me,” George said of the nest. “And then the next year I came and started to photograph it.”
And he has barely stopped since.
“I spent several hundred hours out here,” said George.
He figures 300-500 hours, which he has edited down to a 10 minute film running in the park visitors center.
“Back in 2017, there weren’t very many people here. You would see deer walking around down below there,” George said. “Marmots would come up next to you all kinds of different birds would show up. When you’re here that many days and you watch a merganser family on the river, that kind of stuff, it was wonderful to spend a long period of time and see day after day how things change here that was the best thing of all about this.”
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Photography has changed in the decade that he’s been shooting here. The digital world has opened up everything — and making it easier for him to share his work.
“Especially when I’m using the iPad, I’m showing people and explaining what’s going on. Because they can’t really see what going on unless they’ve got good binoculars or a spotting scope,” said George.
For just the second time in a decade, the nest has welcomed three little ones.
But with nature being nature, the smallest one is not likely to survive. Video from George shows that a bigger chick blocks the smaller one from his parents’ beak-to-beak feeding.
George is still hopeful.
“Every once in a while they’ll feed the youngster. But they seem too be pretty good about making sure the little guy is getting food,” said George.
The birds seem to accept the nearby audience. After all, they come back and birth babies here every year. But park manager Matt Davey doesn’t want the humans to disrupt the domestic scene.
“Like the canyon trail that passes below the nest right now, we reduce group size to four or less and request that noise be kept to a minimum. And we close off the campsites along the rim here,” said Davey.
If you visit the park, Davey asks that you try to limit your movement and visibility on the rim. Keep your voice down, too. But most importantly?
“No dogs. Absolutely no dogs. Absolutely no dogs out on the rim. That can really stress these birds out,” said Davey.
For George, every visit, every still shot and every piece of soaring video is a pleasure — and is personal.
“You get to feel like they’re kind of your birds kind of thing,” said George.
If you’re interested in seeing the eagles, just ask a park ranger or park host where they are. They can tell you where to go and give you advice on how to view the birds without bothering them.
And if you want to see more of George’s work, check georgeleppimages.com.
He has been at it for 50 years, has trained generations of photographers, traveled all over the world and even been named a “legend” by Canon cameras.