Photo: Peter Mather

Behind the Shot

Thanks to Mom, a Photographer Finally Gets His Dream Shot

Here, Peter Mather shares the story behind this long-sought image of a Bald Eagle and two eaglets.

Wildlife photographer Peter Mather spent 15 years visiting remote areas of the Canadian wilderness in search of a Bald Eagle nest that would give his camera a view of “the inner workings of young eaglets’ lives.” He’s ventured on day-long canoe trips down the Yukon and Snake Rivers in Canada, and he’s hidden behind trees when he came across salmon carcasses, waiting for hours to see if a parent would stop by to collect food for their young. And yet the pictures never turned out—even when he used extenders, the chicks and their parents were always specks in the frame.

So a few years ago when Mather’s mother announced that she had spotted the perfect nest just off a popular hiking trail a half hour from his house on the Yukon River, he was skeptical—it's not unusual for people to exaggerate perfect photo ops, he says. (“You can’t trust anybody in the wildlife photography business,” Mather jokes.) But sure enough, when he headed out later to investigate, he learned an important lesson: Always listen to your mother. On a ledge just below the trail sat a nest occupied by two adults and two tiny eaglets. The spot allows easy hunting for the parents—who can swoop down to the Yukon below for fish—and for a once in a lifetime opportunity for Mather.

Having spent years photographing wildlife, Mather knows how different species react when they feel threatened, and he was careful to observe the birds for any signs of stress. But this family, habituated to the crowds of hikers and cyclists passing along the trail, was unusually tolerant and seemed unbothered by Mather as he clicked away. Mather now visits the nest every summer; this particular shot was taken in 2016. “Sometimes you work really hard,” he says. “And some things are gifts that land in your lap.”


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