I run off in search of wildlife sometimes. My family has come to expect this. If I’m late coming home from work, odds are, I’ve decided to visit a local trail or pond to see if I can find any ducks or turtles to photograph before the sun sinks below the horizon.
Being relatively new to wildlife photography, I embark on these sporadic excursions with an open mind. I usually have an idea of what kind of animals I might find in certain habitats, but I often stumble upon species that I can’t identify — especially bird species. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I left work on a sunny afternoon and drove to Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. Just before the entrance of the preserve, I spotted a few ducks in a pond at the side of the road and pulled over to investigate.
As soon as I got out of the car with my camera, a nearby duck spotted me and started swimming in the opposite direction. I didn’t recognize the duck but photographed it and later sent the photo by email to local bird expert and BDN columnist Bob Duchesne, founder of the Maine Birding Trail. He identified it as a male ring-necked duck, not uncommon in Maine but a first for me.
I then continued to my original destination, the Audubon center, where I walked the trails circling the fields and eventually made my way down to the shore of Fields Pond, where later in the summer, children will be jumping off rocks into the water. I was hoping to spot one of the pond’s famous snapping turtles, and when I saw a dark shape moving across the surface of the pond, I thought I might be in luck.
As the creature grew closer and clambered onto the shore, I realized it wasn’t a turtle at all, but a muskrat with a treat. Backlit by the sun, the muskrat crouched on a rock and started prying apart its meal, which I assume was either a freshwater mussel or a small turtle, both of which are a part of a muskrat’s diet in Maine, though the bulk of a muskrat’s diet is vegetation.
Knowing the lighting was better on the muskrat’s other side, I crept back into the forest and tried my best to avoid stepping on sticks and dead leaves as I walked to a better vantage point. Slowly emerging from the forest again, this time on the muskrat’s other side, I snapped photos of the critter eating its meal, then left it in peace.
On my way home from the preserve, I stopped by the pond one more time to see if the ring-necked duck was any closer to the shore. It wasn’t, but as I stood at the pond’s edge being eaten by black flies, I noticed a ripple in the pond’s surface — another muskrat!
On another recent outing, I asked my co-worker John Holyoke to meet me at Essex Woods in Bangor after work to check out the baby mallards I heard were swimming in the bog on the property. John brought along his new dog, Teddy, who was in training mode and on a leash. Fortunately Teddy was so interested in the pile of treats in John’s pocket that he didn’t even notice the ducks, which were there to greet us. As we walked the gravel public trail beside the bog, we watched a group of duckling chase each other across the water and clamber up on half-submerged logs. We waited as they followed their mother across the path to swim in another pool.
Also while at the bog, I took the opportunity to take some photos of songbirds, when they’d stay still long enough for me to manage it. This time of year, the bog is filled with tree swallows cartwheeling through the air to catch flies, as well as eastern phoebes, another type of flycatcher that is common to Maine.