Life and Death at Daniel Webster

After a busy morning followed by a pleasant lunch with my friend Nancy, I was looking forward to a busy afternoon as well. I thought your days off from work were supposed to be a chance to relax and regroup before it was back to the “old grind”. Sure they are …NOT!

I made my first afternoon stop at Ritz Camera in Hingham where I ran into the manager, Sean. I asked him if he had managed to get over to the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary on Monday and he said yes while grabbing his camera to show me what pictures he got. Monday was windy so he has caught some really cute shots of little a Titmouse with its feathers being blown by the wind. The detail was exquisite. 

After my visit I headed out to drop in at work. Yes I know it was my day off but there was a guest in my department that I wanted to meet face to face. We’d been talking on the phone and sending text messages for over 4 years, not always in the most cooperative manner, if you get my drift. I felt it was time to meet. Unfortunately the day was warm and the sky was blue and I had to drive right by the exit to Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary to get to the office. I think you know where this is going. 🙂

I really only intended to stay at the Sanctuary for a few minutes but no sooner did I started down the trail than I met a returning man with a camera around his neck. He said the deer were out in the “Secret Meadow”.  Cool! I wasn’t dressed for a hike but I headed that way anyway.

On the way I had to pass one of the “blinds” and decided to stop in. If past experience is anything, those deer weren’t going anywhere.

The “Blind” is a little wooden shack that sits on the banks of one of the ponds in the sanctuary. There are windows and a bench where you can watch the birds and animals in any kind of weather. There was another photographer there, this time a woman, and she had a big lens and a really solid tripod. I admit that I felt a little intimidated with my flimsy $20.00 tripod and even my 300-500 lens looked tiny next to hers.  She whispered to me that there was a bittern that was in the reeds . I’d scared it with my entry into the blind ( Oh Oh not a good start)  but maybe it would be back.

I tried my best to be quiet as I set up but I confess I was all thumbs. I’m used to being alone and the presence of another photographer with such expensive equipment was doing a number on my nerves. I thought about leaving but felt that would be worse so I “toughed” it out.

Lots of Canada geese, some swallows swooping over the water and at the far end of the pond some ducks…too far away to ID.

I went for something closer to get a handle on my nerves..a couple of turtles.

 I could hear her camera clicking away and the motor on her burst mode humming. I was set on single shot but I didn’t feel any need to change that setting. Then I spotted the bittern.

 It was right near the blind so I pointed it out to my companion. She hadn’t spotted it yet. That one small thing seemed to break the ice. Now we were a team sharing observations and tips, no longer separated by experience or quality and expense of equipment.

The bittern looked like it was listening carefully.

 It would tilt its head and then freeze.  Satisfied with whatever it heard it would wiggle it’s tail feathers and backside much like the way a cat wiggles it’s tail and rear when it’s stalking a mouse or other prey. Then a forward step or two and  it would freeze again.

It was a slow process but we watched every second sometimes having to remind ourselves to breathe. Finally he found what he was looking for. His head pulled back until  it was sitting on it’s “shoulders” than flew forward getting buried in the  water and muck.

When it first came up it looked like all he had was a big clump of weeds but he carried these “weeds” over to a clump of reeds and began dipping the weeds in the water.

 I thought of a raccoon washing his meal. As we watched the weeds slowly dropped away and there was a frog. It wasn’t a huge frog but then the Bittern isn’t a big bird. The next 5-10 minutes were taken up with maneuvering.

The bird had to get that frog in position so it could eat it. It didn’t put it down and peck it to death rather  it seemed to reposition the live frog in its beak by carefully making minute movements.

Then all of a sudden the head went up! We saw the frog head downward , legs in the air and then it was in that bird’s gullet!  He bobbed his head a few times like he was swallowing , we could see the bulge of the frog in it’s skinny throat and then it was over. The bird, back to normal now, slipped back into the reeds. WOW!

It was intense. I don’t know how long that little drama took to play out. It didn’t seem like it was too long but when I glanced at the time It was 5 pm! I’d spent over 2 hours in the blind!

I packed up my gear and said goodbye to my fellow photographer. As I left the blind I felt as thrilled as if I’d been on a safari. I met another photographer just coming in. He asked me what was  out and I passed on  the deer info and told him what we’d just witnessed. It’s the first time I’ve seen other photographers here even though I know it’s a popular place for photos.  Now I feel like I’m part of the community too.

I never made it to the office but I could not have asked for a better day!

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