Eagles fishing for alewives

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Yesterday I went looking for osprey fishing for alewives. In May osprey are easier to spot because of their presence in places where large quantities of alewives are swimming upstream in Maine’s many tidal rivers to reach freshwater lakes and ponds.

The alewives return from the ocean as adults to the lakes and ponds where they were spawned to repeat their cycle of birth and renewal. Their annual runs up Maine rivers and streams all along the coast coincides with the blooming shadbush (otherwise known as the serviceberry). Alewive numbers have declined principally from loss of habitat due to dams and other man made obstacles restricting access to their spawning grounds, as well as other factors (such as harvesting and pollution of ocean waters). Their numbers are coming back with the removal of many dams and new passages through the use of additional fish ladders.

I went to one of the oldest uninterrupted fish ladders in Damariscotta Mills. It creates a conduit between the Damariscotta River at Great Salt Bay and Damariscotta Lake. The alewives are plentiful because this ladder has existed since colonial times. Everything seemed to be out to eat the alewives except birds of prey.  There were cormorants and herring gulls crowding the shores and stalking the milling schools of alewives as they made their way to the ladder. The herring gulls filled the edges with flapping patterns of wings of white and grey. The sound of the gulls filled the air with constant cries that was louder than the flowing water. I checked the sky for osprey flying overhead, but there were none to be seen.

I went further south to Fort Popham to observe how the alewives were running as they entered the mouth of the Kennebec River and to assess whether this would make a good location to photograph osprey. The water was much deeper and wider. At high tide the alewives run right off the waters near the fort. Herring gulls, cormorants and seals were actively harvesting the alewives at Fort Popham, but still no ospreys!

A couple asked me if I had spotted the immature eagle on the ledge of the fort. They said they knew it was an eagle by its yellow feet. I thanked them for their information and went up to see the eagle for myself. My view was impeded by a cage of metal bars, but I could see the eagle on the ledge. It was not an osprey but an immature bald eagle. Later it would return to the same spot; by then I was below it on the ground.

Waiting and patience (and practice) is what it takes to get good images of birds in flight. A good location is  one that allows unobstructed views with a distance between photographer and bird that matches the zoom capacity of one’s lens.  Mine is a relatively short telephoto for bird photography (only 70-200mm).  I practiced on the herring gulls and cormorants. My patience was rewarded by a shot of the immature bald eagle when it landed again on the edge of the fort.

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On my return home, I crossed the Kennebec River near Ticonic Falls and spotted four ospreys flying in the air. One had a fish in its talons. I thought how ironic that what I wanted was right in my own back yard! If I  just wait patiently, I could shoot osprey much closer to home than a trip to the coast.

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