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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
Sometimes Mother Nature can be so cruel. Earlier this summer, a nesting pair of Common Loons (Gavia Immer) on a western NH lake lost 3 eggs to predation. Being a resilient pair, they had a second clutch and two of the eggs hatched on 7/24/12, with a report that the third egg was still being incubated. The concern with such a late hatching is that the chicks cannot begin to fly until about 11 weeks of age. That is pushing up against early November, and an early cold snap that ices up the lakes may trap them as they need a long distance of open water to get airborne.
On 7/26/12 I set out on the water at 5:30 a.m. in hopes of photographing the new family. It took quite a while to find them as they were at the far end of the lake. I was saddened to find only one chick with a parent. It appeared the second chick had died. I thought that perhaps the other adult was still on the nest, but a short while later an adult flew in, and joined the other in feeding the lone chick.
Scenic Wonders of Western Maine
Having spent so much of my time photographing Reid State Park in Maine, and farms and barns in Vermont, I decided it was time to start photographing areas of Maine that I had never explored. So on one beautiful day last summer I programmed Eustis, Maine, into my GPS and set out for the mountains at 5:00 am. Leaving the flatlands of the midcoast area behind, I was soon on Route 4 to Auburn, through Mechanic Falls and on to Rumford.
I had decided I would take a side trip to Grafton Notch State Park and maybe even a ride into New Hampshire if time permitted. I was completely taken aback by all the beautiful vistas and photographic possibilities I encountered along the way.
Eustis is a small town that is tucked out of the way and is the last town of any size before the border town of Coburn-Gore. It’s surrounded on one side by water, and the other by mountains. The views here were varied and breathtaking. On one side of the road you look upon a vast marsh that seems to go for miles before it rises up into the mountains. On the other side is a lake with a tall mountain in the distance.
The scenery really started to change as I approached Rumford. The low hills gave way to flat, miles long, open areas, leading to views of the distant Western Mountains. But before I got to Rumford I came to Norway and was fascinated by a long causeway surrounded on both sides by a lake. There were loons splashing in the water and making a huge ruckus. Two of them were dancing wildly on top of the water. I watched this dance for a while and marveled at the way the loons ‘walked’ on the water, and beat the surface of the lake with their wings. I’m told they do this ‘dance’ (called the penguin dance) to distract predators. After browsing the scenery in Norway, I headed for Rangely then over to Eustis.
After exploring the Eustis area I turned back toward Rangely and then took a back road towards Errol, which would eventually hook me up with Route 16 and Grafton Notch State Park.
This park is small and beautiful, and well worth a visit. There are a couple of must see attractions: Screw Auger Falls, and Moose Cave.
Moose Cave is located within a 45-foot-deep canyon of bedrock where water skirts boulders and temporarily disappears into a cave beneath a granite slab. The trail follows a 600-foot long gorge carved through granite by glacial meltwater.
Hikers are urged to show caution on the slippery rocks so that one will not fall in the gorge like the unlucky moose for whom Moose Cove was named. The trail also loops through a moss garden located on the ledges of the mixed growth forest. Several species of lichen inhabit this garden including “Reindeer Moss” which is native to the Arctic Tundra. There is also an excellent view of Table Rock from Route 26 at this point.
After leaving Grafton Notch, it was a short ride into New Hampshire and Vermont, with many more beautiful wonders. But that is a subject for another day and another blog.
To sum it up, I would say that this oft overlooked area of Maine is worth a visit anytime of year. My next trip here will be to photograph the fall foliage. I’m told it is among the best in New England.