A means to a lens: New Salem man photographs wildlife in retirement

  • Dale Monette Photography A coyote.

  • Dale Monette Photography The Quabbin Reservoir.

  • Wildlife photographer Dale Monette, 68, stands beside one of his photographs. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli

  • Wildlife photographer Dale Monette, 68, stands beside one of his photographs. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli

  • Dale Monette Photography A red-bellied woodpecker. DALE MONETTE

  • Dale Monette Photography This photograph of a bobcat in Petersham is the cover photo of Dale Monette's book, "Secret Lives of the Quabbin Watershed."

  • Dale Monette Photography A coyote.

  • Dale Monette Photography A bobcat.

  • Dale Monette Photography A coyote.

  • Dale Monette Photography A coyote.

  • Wildlife photographer Dale Monette, 68, stands beside one of his photographs. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli—

  • Wildlife photographer Dale Monette, 68, stands beside one of his photographs. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli—

Recorder Staff
Thursday, February 01, 2018

NEW SALEM — Dale Monette was 63 when he discovered a life’s passion.

Monette was two years from retirement from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation when he realized he wanted to document the exquisite wildlife that had been his neighbor since he was a boy. So Bill Byrne, a friend and longtime photographer for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, recommended getting a Nikon D7100 camera.

“It was kind of confusing to me at the beginning. But I just started going out every day,” he said. “I had remembered where I had seen things over the years and I went to new places and I started taking pictures.”

Monette retired in April 2014 and has become a seasoned wildlife photographer, with a website and a book to his credit. Now 68, the New Salem resident spends his retirement venturing around the Quabbin Reservoir, capturing images of the animals that call the area home. He uses his years of experience at the Quabbin Visitors Center in Belchertown to guide him in his almost-daily quest.

“When I was working, a lot of people would come in the visitors’ center in Quabbin and say, ‘Well, where can I go to see bald eagles?’ and it’s almost impossible to get to the nests because they’re all on islands and some of them are even down in the restricted areas where the public has no access,” he said. “But they fly all over the place, so it’s fairly easy to see them. You just have to put the time in, you know?”

Monette said there are 52 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Massachusetts, derived from the 41 chicks brought from Michigan and Canada in 1982 by MassWildlife in collaboration with the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Monette was involved in this project while studying natural resources and the environment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in his 30s. Monette said eagles known as Betsy and Ross reared young in 1989, the first nesting since 1906.

“(Eagles) are so majestic and I guess because I was there the first year they started the program, I always liked seeing them,” he said.


Monette also loves seeing coyotes in their element, though the animals’ sharp hearing makes getting close enough to photograph them difficult.

But he tells of a success story in the New Salem area last fall, when a coyote emerged from the woods. Monette said he had seen this particular coyote numerous times and recognized it because of its brown fur. He said he observed the coyote for 60 to 70 minutes, watching it catch a couple of mice and get closer and closer to him before disappearing behind a clump of trees.

“And all of a sudden, I look up and I see him coming right at me and walked within ... 60 yards … and I just froze,” he said. “I had the camera up and I just started taking pictures of him and he sat right down. He sat right down and looked right at me as if to say, ‘I know you’re there.’”

He said he took three or four pictures, then the animal got up and trotted away, to eventually return with a rodent in its mouth. He took more pictures.

“It was one of those things I walked away and I thought, ‘Man, that’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing.’”

You can see photos of this coyote on Monette’s website: northquabbinphotography.com

The book

One of Monette’s favorite photos is that of a bobcat peeking out of some bushes. He said he was in a swamp in Petersham and hadn’t been there 15 minutes when he spotted the cat walking across a beaver dam. This photo serves as the cover of Monette’s book, “Secret Lives of the Quabbin Watershed,” which was published by Haley’s Antiques and Publishing in Athol in September. Monette estimates he has sold 600 copies. He said the book can be purchased at businesses in Athol and Orange as well as the North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce and by contacting him through his website.

Fifteen of his photographs can be seen at Leelyn Law LLC, at 235 Greenfield Road, Suite No. 11, in South Deerfield until the end of April. According to its website, the law firm is a supporter of local art and crafts and sponsors an Office Art Collaborative.

Monette said he makes sure to bundle up when he forges out in the winter. He said he has been out when it is 20 degrees below 0.

“If you’re up in the woods and you’re lucky, it might run right by you,” he said, adding that the animals breed in February, ironically the same month as Valentine’s Day. “They’re all out looking for love.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 258 On Twitter: @DomenicPoli