When Sharon Fiedler drives around Bangor, she’s not usually interested in the historic buildings or landmarks. Yes, the Thomas Hill Standpipe is impressive. The Rock and Art Shop is unique. The 31-foot statue of Paul Bunyan is iconic.
But Fiedler has other priorities. She’s watching for wildlife, and she knows exactly where in the city to look.
“The fox den is right there,” said 64-year-old Fiedler as she pointed out the car window in Bangor at what appeared to be a typical roadside ditch. In late March, the ground was still covered with a thin layer of dirty snow.
“I can’t wait until spring,” she said. “The baby fox run around and play just like puppies. I could watch them all day.”
And she has.
Last spring, she hid in the nearby forest and watched the mother of the den nurse her five kits in broad daylight, and she captured it all on camera.
Fiedler, who lives in a cozy apartment in downtown Bangor with two blue Persian cats, has been photographing local wildlife for the past seven years. Retired and doing part-time office work, she fills many of her waking hours finding and photographing Maine wildlife.
When she started as photographer, Fiedler would go far afield, such as chasing moose on the Golden Road. But as gas prices rose, she found she could no longer afford so many long drives.
So she began learning about other wildlife, animals that lived a bit closer to home. Maine’s great outdoors, she found, starts when she steps outside.
“Go out for a ride and open your eyes because it’s all around,” Fiedler said. “A lot of people don’t know that [animals] are sitting in their backyard.”
Fiedler’s path to wildlife photography began with moose.
Years ago, a family friend took her on a drive down the Golden Road, a 97-mile logging road that stretches from Millinocket to Quebec and is an especially good place for viewing moose. After spying several of the magnificent animals, Fiedler was hooked. So she returned with a standard Kodak camera in hand.
“In the photos I took, the moose was this small,” she said, holding her pointer finger and thumb less than an inch apart. “But I was excited. I didn’t know any better.”
Over the years, she has upgraded her equipment as her knowledge of photography has grown, with the help of experts from Bangor Photo, a local shop that closed last summer. Fiedler now totes a professional-grade camera, a Canon 70D, and shoots wildlife with a 100-400mm lens.
Moose was her main focus. She drove north to photograph them nearly every day she had off work. Sometimes friends would join her, but usually, she went alone.
When gas prices reduced her travels, her son-in-law gave her a book on Maine birds, she was hesitant. Birding seemed like a dull hobby to her. But that opinion didn’t last long. Nowadays, birds of prey — such as eagles, osprey and owls — are some of her favorite subjects to photograph.
“To be able to watch them in action, to watch them fish, to watch them steal fish from one another — it’s just a lot of fun,” she said.
And no matter how familiar she has become with resident birds, their actions can still catch her by surprise.
“The first time that I’d ever seen the eagles mating, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s getting closer to her.’ But then I thought he was just going to hop over to the other side [of the branch], not that he was going to stop off for the ride,” Fiedler said with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Holy crap. Get out. Who sees this? This is so cool.’”
Those particular eagles live right in Bangor. Nestled in the upper branches of a tall evergreen, their nest is a giant bowl, woven with twigs and packed with moss and grass. Few people would ever notice this natural abode, located in a busy residential area.
“I only know where it is because I watched them build it,” Fiedler said.
She has also watched a pair of eagles build a nest in Veazie. Each eagle took turns gathering supplies and arranging the nest, and sometimes, it seemed that they didn’t quite agree.
“Let’s say [the male eagle] is out and he brings the stick and drops it in the nest and takes off again,” Fiedler said. “And while he’s gone, she rearranges the nest. I watched her do this — she rearranged that stick and she put it where she wanted it. And he came back with another stick. She left. And he went around and found that stick, and he didn’t like where she put it, so he picked it up and threw it out of the nest. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life and I was like, ‘Wow. It’s just like a relationship.’ It really was fun to watch and just try to make sense of what it is you’re seeing.”
In addition to knowing the location of several nests, Fiedler has learned the trees that eagles and other birds of prey typically perch in while fishing the Penobscot River and Kenduskeag Stream.
She knows of a building where peregrine falcons often perch in the early morning, a cliff where the turkey vultures roost, and local waterfowl hotspots. She knows of power lines where hawks hunt, yards where wild turkey roam and fields where you’re likely to spot deer. And she has learned it all through observation and chatting with the people she meets along the way, picking their brains for places they’ve seen wildlife. And through a Maine bird Google group and eBird, she receives emails notifying her of bird sightings throughout the state.
“It gets you out of the house,” Fiedler said. “For the most part I do it by myself. It gives you a chance to meet new people. So that’s nice. And then it makes you more aware of the environment you really live in.”
Sometimes people join her on the outings — friends, fellow photographers, family — but few people have the patience and passion to watch a snowy owl hunt field mice for hours.
“Once I locate them, I could spend the whole day with that animal. The snowy owls I just can’t get enough of. I go out every day to see him — sometimes two times a day,” she said of a snowy owl that has been hunting a field in Hampden this winter.
“It’s quite addictive. It really is.”
For more of Fiedler’s wildlife photos, visit facebook.com/Mooseprintz.