Great egrets, snowy egrets and lesser yellowlegs were wading through the Essex Woods wetlands near the Bangor Mall yesterday afternoon. I spotted them through the cattails and tall grass as I walked around the wetlands on a public trail at the bottom of Essex Street Hill, one of Bangor’s most famous sledding hills in the winter. The wetlands is one of my favorite local spots to view wildlife, and the types of animals I see there changes throughout the year. For directions on how to get there, click here.
In the spring, the wetlands are filled with nesting red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds. Spring is also a good time to see ducks. There’s usually a family or two of mallards, hooded mergansers, red-breasted mergansers and on occasion, wood ducks.
Throughout the summer, the songbirds and ducklings grow up and move out, and a number of wading birds move in. People have recently seen Virginia rails and soras in the wetlands, but both birds tend to be rather secretive. Green herons and egrets have also been spotted, and later in the summer, there will likely be a few great blue herons and sandpipers wading around.
Of course, you have to be patient and lucky to see these animals. Many of the birds I’ve listed are good at hiding in the grasses and woods surrounding the wetlands. Plus, a big portion of the wetlands is not accessible by trail, so who knows what’s wandering around out there.
Yesterday, it was about 85 degrees Fahrenheit at 3 p.m. when I decided to go for a short stroll around the wetlands with my camera. In the water, I spotted two great egrets, which are tall white wading birds with long yellow beaks; as well as two snowy egrets, which are also white but smaller, with dark beaks. The snowy egrets were quite far from me, preening as they perched on a fallen tree just above the water; but the great egrets were wading close to the public path. Nevertheless, they were difficult to photograph because I had to wait for them to walk into gaps in the tall grass at the waters edge.
Other birds I spotted during the 1.5-hour walk include goldfinches, eastern phoebes, belted kingfishers, a yellow warbler, a chickadee, a male red-winged blackbird, young mallard ducks, young mergansers (of some sort) and lesser yellowlegs. I also spotted a muskrat swimming around with plants in his mouth.
Though I was happy to find so many different animals, what truly made the short walk memorable for me was a silly discovery I made about my beloved 100-400mm Canon camera lens.
To professional photographers, this is going to sound ridiculous.
For the 1.5 years I’ve owned the lens, I didn’t realize that you could change its settings, literally with the flip of a switch, so it can focus on objects that are closer. I always assumed I had to be very far away from an object (6.5 meters, to be specific), in order to focus on it. Therefore, there have been many times when animals I’m photographing get too close to me for me to focus on them with that particular lens.
Well, yesterday, I found the magical switch on the side of the lens — the one that reads 6.5m and… 1.8m. I was looking at it and the wheels started turning in my head, and I thought:
Hey, maybe if I switch it to 1.8m, I can focus on things closer… like down to 1.8 meters away..
It worked. I felt silly and excited at the same time. For the rest of my walk, I could take photos of birds that were far away (as usual), as well as dragonflies and butterflies that were landing on plants much closer to me. The switch opened up a whole new world of photography for me.
During my outing, I came across two ladies who were looking for birds with binoculars. They recognized me from my BDN blog and column and were kind enough to pause and chat with me for a while about birds. I pointed them in the direction of the snowy egrets and great egrets, while they told me about the lesser yellowlegs and Virginia rail that had been spotted recently by other birders.
I told the two ladies about my revelation with my camera, and they laughed with me.
“Maybe you should read the manual,” one of them suggested.
Manual reading sounds so boring… but yes, I think it’s about time I do that.
More photos to peruse: