Recently, on our Facebook page, one of the fans posted a question. It was worded something like this: “I desperately want to photograph owls. I have very limited time and live in Boston. Where can I go to photograph owls?”
The person writing the post already had these 3 strikes against them:
1: Owls. They are among the most difficult birds to find.
2: Limited time. This equals almost a 0% chance of finding any kind of wildlife, much less owls.
3: Living in a metro area. This is not conducive to finding owls in the wild.
Keys to Success
To be successful at any kind of wildlife photography you need 3 basic things:
1. Knowledge of your subject.
2. TIME to spend in the field.
3. Finding habitats that support the type of wildlife you’re looking for.
To that end I’ve decided to recount a typical safari I went on to get Bald Eagle pictures. If you think this is over the top I’m sure most of the Guild members who shoot wildlife will confirm that it’s what you have to do to be successful.
For 20 years now, on the weekend after Labor Day, I have been playing in a golf tournament in Maine. One of the birds of prey that I wanted better pictures of was the Bald Eagle. Here in Southern New England they are scarce. I did research and found that one of the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles is in the Lake Umbagog region in northern New Hampshire-Maine. I got out maps, researched Google map and satellite images, and decided where I was going.
We stopped to photograph 2 loons who were fishing the river.
I tacked 3 days on the front end of the golf trip and packed golf gear, photography gear, and kayak gear in my pickup and hit the road. I drove from Rhode Island, up through western Maine, through Grafton Notch to Errol, NH. I had talked my sister Judy, also a photographer in VT, into meeting me there. I got to Errol in the late afternoon. I couldn’t call her because I had lost cell service 50 miles back in Maine. I drove to the Androscoggin River where we planned on putting in. There was the familiar Toyota with VT plates and kayak — Judy was at the river. We scouted the river and planned our launch at first light.
Morning dawned clear but with heavy fog over the river. The date was Sept. 6, the temperature was 31 degrees. We drove the short distance to the river and prepared to launch. It was here that we met Fred. Fred lived in Errol and fished the river almost daily. We questioned Fred on where the eagles were, what we could expect, etc. His local knowledge proved invaluable in planning our day.
“Fred” paddles up river toward the headwaters of the Androcoggin River.
Where the Eagles Live
We kayaked up the Androscoggin, taking our time, looking for moose, eagles, and loons. When we reached the headwaters there was Fred, casting for bass at the mouth of the river. Sitting in a tall pine was a bald eagle. We photographed him from the kayaks, taking our time, lining up the shot to take advantage of the light. At some point the eagle swooped over the river and landed in another tree. We started to paddle across the river, anxious to get more pictures. As we passed Fred he said, “Don’t hurry. He’s not going anywhere because he wants this.” Fred then proceeded to lift a nice bass out of the water. He told us to take our time – he’d hold the fish until we got our shots. “I’d give it to him, but it’s a bass,” he said. “I’d give him a pickerel, but I won’t give him a bass.”
The moon frames this Bald Eagle, perched in the top of a pine, along the Androscoggin River.
Striking a Pose
Eventually he released the bass and the eagle flew back across the river. It was here that he did something that gave us a shot that I haven’t seen in anyone else’s pictures — he posed. He struck the pose that you see on the back of every quarter — wings spread; looking regal. He held it for so long his wings drooped and he finally folded them in and flew off. We spent a total of about 6 hours in the kayaks that day. In the evening we went looking for moose without any luck.
The eagle flew across the river and landed in this dead tree. He struck this pose and held it for at least 5 minutes
One more Shot
The next morning, before I left, I took one more ride up Rt. 16 looking for moose. I found a spot on the Magalloway River with the morning fog accenting the sunrise. I stopped and took some shots. One of the pictures I took that morning took top honors in a juried art show the following summer.
The morning sun reflects in the still waters of the Magalloway River as the last of the morning fog burns off.
I drove the long trip back to Sebago Lake and Frye Island for the start of the golf tournament. I switched from photography and kayak gear to golf spikes and clubs. By the time I got back home I had been gone for a week, had logged over 600 miles on the truck, kayaked the beginning of the Androscoggin River and Lake Umbagog, photographed eagles, and took a picture that would win an award. So the next time you see a wildlife shot that really grabs you, you can bet that the photographer, like me, went the extra mile — or two.
~ Butch Lombardi
East Bay Images