Sara Montour Lewis — Seattle Commercial Children's Lifestyle + Wildlife Conservation Photographer
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Field Notes

These field notes are a little peak behind the scenes of personal adventures, creation of stock imagery, location scouting, etc.

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Our Urban Wilderness — A Day In The Life Of A Pond

I thought that there was no better follow up to my last Our Urban Wilderness post than this surreal day that I had on the edge of a pond near Minneapolis. If you aren’t familiar with my Our Urban Wilderness project, here’s a quick recap of the series and my intent behind it:

Inevitably, every time I post an image on instagram + facebook of the wildlife I find on these walks, someone will say something along the lines of "where did you find that?!" or "I wish I lived closer to 'XYZ' so I could see something that cool!" and I always have to laugh because 90% of the time I was just on a quick walk in the middle of the city and stumbled upon some crazy creature. I'm guilty of it, too, though. If I see a photo of a walrus or a narwhal I want to hop a plane to the arctic immediately, if not sooner. I know, though, that there are a million cool creatures within a few miles of us all right this second and all we really have to do to see them is slow down, open our eyes and be patient. This year alone I know I've seen dozens + dozens of animals that I've never seen before.

The second reason I wanted to do this project is because there seems to be this mental box that we put on wildlife where we think that humans exist in "THE CITY" and wildlife exists in "THE WILD", as if we all live in a zoo together and there are barriers between our habitats. (All you have to do is live in an area where bears or coyotes have wandered into residential neighborhoods to realize how strongly people believe this.) The fact, though, is that we're all coexisting and our paths cross far more often than we all realize. I think this can happen, peacefully, if we're all just a little more aware and if we don't turn into alarmists every time we see something that we're sure belongs in "THE WILD". 

On this particular day I had intended on just taking a quick walk, but every time I decided I was going to head home another new animal would appear that would make me stay a little longer. And then a little longer. Until I looked at my watch and 6 hours had passed.

Here’s the journey of this crazy day, largely underneath a major freeway in the middle of the city.


Right when I got out of my car I looked up to see two juvenile bald eagles. Before I even had my camera ready they went into a death spiral and then flew away. A pretty promising way to start the day.

Bald Eagles Fly Away After a Death Spiral
Juveniles Bald Eagles in a Death Spiral over the Mississippi River
Juvenile Bald Eagles Flying Away Out of a Death Spiral by Seattle Conservation Photographer Sara Montour Lewis

I walked across the river and saw this little guy (muskrat? nutria?) swimming to his home.

Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis
Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis
Tree Sparrow by Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

I heard a rustle in the leaves and jumped when I saw this little garter snake. I like snakes, but, admittedly, they’re still creepy when I don’t expect them and they’re so unpredictable that you just never know which way they’re going to go.

Garter Snake by Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

Once my heart rate goes back to normal I do get a little more curious (and brave), though. ;)

A closeup photography of a garter snake sticking its tongue out

I heard another rustling on the other side of me, so assumed it was another snake, but when I looked over I realized I was only half right. This was one of the more bizarre things I’ve ever seen and I stood there and watched for quite a while, until it finally managed to swallow the entire frog. Nature. Is. Nuts.

Garter Snake Eating A Frog by Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

After that I walked a little further to the edge of a pond where I ended up spending the rest of my time that day. My favorite thing, and most successful way to get wildlife photos, is to find a spot to camp out so the animals come to you instead of trying to seek them out. Once they accept you as part of the environment they generally let their guard down and carry on with what they’re doing.

I will admit that, for me, this strategy rarely works unless there’s something already there to keep my brain (and camera) busy, so I generally won’t sit at a spot unless I’ve already found something to focus on, or if I know it’s somewhere that wildlife is likely to come to.

When I walked up and saw this Egret fishing it was the perfect excuse to hang out for a while. It was catching tadpole after tadpole and that little painted turtle on the log didn’t seem to care one bit.

Painted Turtle on a log and an egret in a pond by Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis
Egret fishing in a pond by Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis
An egret on the shore of a pond by wildlife photographer Sara Montour Lewis
An Egret flying through the air by Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

When the Egret flew away I considered walking for a little bit longer, but then this Great Blue Heron flew over and sat right next to me.

Great Blue Heron on a pond by Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

Suddenly these little Painted Turtles started popping up everywhere.

A painted turtle sunning itself on a pond
A painted turtle swims in a pond by Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

If I thought a snake in the grass was creepy I definitely wasn’t ready for this snake that swam right underneath my feet.

A garter snake swims across a lake in Minnesota
A photograph of a garter snake swimming on a lake

Once I felt safe that the snake wasn’t going to swim back at me I looked the other direction to see this painted turtle attempting to climb on what I thought was a log…

A painted turtle climbs on a snapping turtle in a pond in Minnesota
A painted turtle climbs on a snapping turtle in a pond in Minnesota

…but it turned out to be the head of a SNAPPING TURTLE.

A painted turtle climbs on a snapping turtle in a pond in Minnesota

And this is when the day started getting really bizarre and I knew that I wasn’t going to be leaving for quite a while. Suddenly every few minutes HUGE snapping turtles started surfacing within a few feet from me and then going back under water, only to return again.

A snapping turtle in a pond by conservation photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

And again.

A snapping turtle in a pond by conservation photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

I saw this muskrat swimming from the other side of the pond and out of the corner of my eye thought I saw another muskrat on the edge of the pond.

Seattle Wildlife Conservation Photographer

But it was actually a mink!

A mink on the edge of a pond by wildlife photographer, Sara Montour Lewis
A mink on the edge of a pond by wildlife photographer, Sara Montour Lewis
A mink on the edge of a pond by wildlife photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

That. Swam. Directly. To. Me.

A mink on the edge of a pond by wildlife photographer, Sara Montour Lewis
A mink swimming across a pond by wildlife photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

And, to cap off the day, my favorite snapping turtle that I think would play the perfect part of a wise old grandmother in a Disney movie.

A snapping turtle coming up for air on a pond by Seattle Wildlife Photographer, Sara Montour Lewis

What a day.

Stay curious, friends. Nature is all around.

If you fell in love with any of these photos and would like to purchase prints or license them for commercial/editorial use, head over to the archive or contact me directly.