Field Notes through May


Edited version of Black Crow surrounded by red Maple buds.
Black Beauty

My attention was not on my photography during the early months of facing the Covid-19 pandemic.

April looked bleak not only for the lack of spring colors outdoors but because the spread of Covid-19 had reached Maine and Governor Mills had, compared with other states, proactively shut us down with stay-at- home orders, before our cases of Covid-19 ever reached problematic numbers for our hospitals to handle. Masks, physical distancing, sanitizing our hands and prohibitions of events where congregate gatherings could occur were the new norms for Maine. My husband and I hunkered down and prepared to be house bound through 2021 because we were in the vulnerable cohort.

We didn’t know how bad it would get as we watched the news about first Italy, then NYC’s overwhelmed medical care systems flounder as they rushed to meet the needs of community transmitted cases of infections. People were dying in record numbers. Tractor trailers were being used to store the dead. Sick people lined hallways of hospitals. First responders were getting sick in stunning numbers and calls for PPE were not being adequately fulfilled. We were scared for them. We were scared for ourselves.

Advice about how to protect yourself from infection focused mainly on washing hands and disinfecting surfaces but I had read enough about historical pandemics and assumed the real vector of transmission was more likely from the aerosol spray from our breath, exacerbated by lack of ventilation (to diffuse enough tiny particles) and the amount of time spent breathing sufficient quantities to overwhelm our body’s immune system. Nevertheless we had groceries delivered at first and washed them. In the beginning grocery shelves were sparse or empty of many foods, but especially facial tissue, toilet paper and any OTC medications related to cold, allergy or flu.

My plans to continue my photography business were suspended with a “wait and see” attitude.  It took me awhile to move beyond the shock of an understood necessity to shelter-in-place and the new reality of a changed world. In my fright about how bad things could get with interrupted supply chains I decided, like many others, to grow vegetables this year. Once the gardens were in place I planned  to hone my photography skills by practicing my art in local venues, particularly my yard and teaching myself how to use Photoshop.

At the very end of April, still waiting for spring, I tried to entice the crows to visit my visible back yard by dumping my compost onto my raised beds behind the kitchen. I had been using a compost pile on the other side of my garage which was out of sight. They would visit it, and perch in the trees above it, but I couldn’t see them from any of my windows.

Grey Fox through Window in raised bed.
Grey Fox investigating my raised bed April 25.

I was thrilled to see a gorgeous grey fox sample the offerings but disappointed it did not return. I had the 24-105 lens on the camera and grabbed it in time to get off a few shots through the screened windows of my kitchen nook. Most of the shots were out of focus due to motion blur. I feared spooking it with my own motion behind the window. But the one below was good enough to crop.

Head Shot of Grey Fox
Hello Beautiful!

A few days later the crows sat in the maples dotted with red flowers in bloom. I saw that the red buds contrasted nicely with the crow’s black feathers.  In my mind’s eye it was more dramatic but the camera doesn’t blur the red background as the brain imagines it.

American Crow in Flowering Maple Tree
April 30 Black Crow/Red Flower Buds

The image at the beginning of this blog is the one I chose to edit for this post. I cropped it, and took the white smudge from the garage out of the image, brightened the reds and deepened the blacks in the crow’s feathers. I could do more to it but it suffices for right now as a record of how little work I was doing with my photography during April and May. I wasn’t shooting or doing much editing because I had decided to use my months of waiting to see how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted Maine by working on my yard to improve my flower beds and grow vegetables.

Six yards of compost dumped on my lawn.
May 16 Six yards of compost for the gardens.

I ordered six yards of compost to improve my soil as I dreamed of lush vegetables and flowers growing through fall. I moved a lot of soil around!

Raised Beds with Cattle Panel

I had already emptied my raised beds of left over perennials and planted them in my front yard. Lupines, Black-Eyed-Susans, and Forget- Me-Nots. I topped off the raised beds with 10 wheel barrels full of new compost. My deck is falling apart so I had to move all the heavy planter pots off it. My original plan was to fill them with vegetables too.  I filled them with custom mixed soils to suit the needs of tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. The two pots in front were planted with Waltham Butternut and Taybelle Acorn Squash seedlings. They were supposed to grow up the cattle panel and meet pole beans planted on the other side.

Raised beds before planting
Before planting

The empty planter in the front was supposed to become a solar powered water fountain to entice the birds to land all over the garden. I imagined mammoth sunflowers growing up through the black trellis in the foreground and planted seeds to accomplish my vision.

Indigo Bunting at bird feeder
Indigo Bunting May 26

A beautiful iridescent Blue Bunting visited my bird feeder at the end of May. It was another grab shot but I am happy to have a record of it to remind me of moments of serendipity. Evidently it was just traveling through to somewhere else because we didn’t see it again. It likes heavy brush and I cut mine down this year in hopes of being able to walk out into the woods behind my house without the need for bushwhacking.

So ends the first half of 2020 and my field notes to date. Not many photos. Not many trips beyond my garden’s edges.

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Please say something and like it so I know you’ve been here and read this. Also, I do want to know your thoughts. What did you do during these first few months of Covid-19? Did you garden? Did you improve your home? Did you get out for hikes in the wilderness?

Eagles fishing for alewives

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.


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.

Mother’s Day Moose

Happy Mother's Day-0475

Mother’s Day was spent enjoying an afternoon drive north and west to outrun the rain clouds associated with the front running downeast along the Maine coast Sunday. The skies were dark from overcast clouds shedding light drizzle to occasional showers. The forecasts for almost the entire state of Maine held no hope for sun and little hope for dry overcast skies. But on the western edge towards the White Mountains and Rangeley, the forecast called for clearing skies by afternoon. I was in the mood for a Mother’s Day meander and we headed out about noon for Rangeley via Route 4. It was a successful tactic, yielding more than drier skies for sightseeing. Just below Smalls Falls (just outside of Rangeley) we spotted a mother moose and her calf pretending to be trees about 30 feet from the road.
Moose with Calf-0455
We stopped the SUV and backed up to position ourselves to see them from across the right side of the road. I didn’t dare ask to position the car any better for fear of spooking them deeper into the woods. She kept her calf behind her and vigilantly kept her eye on us.
Moose with Calf-0461
The mother reminded me of popular wolf pictures depicting wolves gazing out from behind trees. The eyes stare at me, knowing me for who I am and watching. She almost decided against walking towards us.
Moose leaving -0506
Would she have stayed if I had been in a pickup truck instead of my SUV? Was it the SUV shape that convinced her I was harmless? Would she have approached the road to drink the salty runoff if she didn’t need the salt?
Mother and Calf coming out to road-0463
Six minutes. It felt like fifteen. Time enough for 52 images. Enough images to review their behavior from the luxury of my large computer screen to see what transpired in those short six minutes.
Moose with Calf-0469
Her body color of mixed and patchy grey on the front half camouflaged her form as it split the front grey half from being perceived as part of the darker solid brown of the back half. Her front body looked like tree and her back as forest shadow.
Mother Moose Protecting Calf-0471
Her head with its rectangular shape looks more like a horizontal tree trunk than the head of an animal.
Moose with Calf-0492
This forest habitat clearly shows off their entire bodies and their long legs, so often invisible beneath the deep waters of streams where they are more often photographed in Maine.
Moose with Calf-0508
I expected more motion from them. They were still and peaceful. Not the quivering nervousness of deer. She was regal and queen-like. And when they left, they quietly walked away and disappeared into the trees.