New camera lens helps capture winter wildlife

For a while now, I’ve been finding my 300mm camera lens to be insufficient when it comes to photographing most wildlife. It just doesn’t have the reach. I have to either have to be in an observation blind or I have to be photographing an animal that isn’t remotely scared of me (for example, a mallard approaching me for a piece of bread in the Essex Woods bog). Sometimes I’d get lucky and sneak up on an animal, but then I’d worry I was disturbing the animal. And who wants to photograph wildlife if it’s not acting naturally? If it’s acting afraid and startled? Not me.

However, camera lenses are expensive. Ask any photographer. Lenses burn holes in pockets, and there’s always a lens you wish you had.


By Aislinn Sarnacki. Red-tailed hawk and crow in Hampden, Dec. 25, 2014.

So I decided to save up for the next step up (a big step up) — a 100mm-400mm lens, which would enable me to photograph wildlife from more of a distance. And this Christmas, to my surprise, I received the lens much earlier than I anticipated. And that very day, I was driving to family party when I saw a red-tailed hawk perched on a tree beside the road in Hampden and I was able to use the lens for the first time. It was a rainy, gloomy day, but I managed to get an OK photo, nevertheless.

We stopped at home to feed our dog (Oreo) before attending the party and I ran down the road to a hedge where I knew I’d find some songbirds. There I photographed a female northern cardinal, house sparrows and a mockingbird.

By Aislinn Sarnacki. Not sure!

By Aislinn Sarnacki. Not sure!

A few days later, I snapped a photo of a yellow-faced bird sitting at my backyard bird feeder, and then a nearby tiki torch. I’m not confident about identifying it.

Then I got to photographing some of the snowy owls that have migrated down from the Arctic to spend their winter hunting in Maine. These owls can be found hunting fields throughout the state, and unfortunately, many of them are hunting airport runways, which resemble their tundra breeding grounds.

If you watch them from a distance and don’t disturb them (or the rodents in the field they are hunting), you might see them catch a vole or mouse… My boyfriend Derek received a pair of binoculars for Christmas, so he was able to watch the excitement as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about snowy owls, check out my post “Snowy owls return to Maine, wildlife watchers report early sightings,” and “Snowy owls infiltrate Maine, stirring up questions about human-wildlife relations.” In both stories, I try to stress the importance of keeping a distance (which I know is hard with such charismatic, bold birds). These owls need to capture and consume several rodents a day, and if you approach them too close, you’ll scare off their prey. Also, sometimes, they’re just trying to catch a nap.

I’ve noticed that they tend to perch up high while hunting, often using telephone poles, roofs and even parked vehicles to gain a good view of a field. But sometimes they just sit in the snow on a hill, nearly invisible.






Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at