August 2012
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August 11th comment ››
Loons

It’s been another wonderful season of loon photography, and we are very pleased to have been featured with an article and images in the Summer edition of Nature Photographer Magazine.  PDF or iPad app downloads for only $3.99 are available  at the following link: https://www.naturephotographermag.com/.  The magazine is full of stunning photos and interesting and informative articles.

It wasn’t until we got on the water in our canoe and kayaks that we were able to closely observe and photograph these magnificent birds that have evolved for their aquatic lives.  Our lake is relatively small which provides spectacularly colorful backgrounds of blues, yellows and greens.  Many of the following facts we learned at the Glacier Institute in Glacier National Park, Montana, and Northland College’s website is an excellent resource to learn behaviors and other loon facts.  In addition to our own many hours of observations and photography we relied heavily on these two sources.  Their links are as follows:

http://www.glacierinstitute.org/

http://www.northland.edu/sigurd-olson-environmental-institute-loonwatch-about-loons.htm

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This was an unusual opportunity to photograph a territorial standoff by a mated pair against another pair of ‘visitor loons.’  Our lake has a nesting pair, the resident loons, and it is visited regularly by other loons that stay an hour or so and then leave, sometimes with encouragement from the lake’s resident pair.

Aggressive behavior up close and personal.  There have been times when we’ve sat in the canoe at a distance observing and photographing the interaction between the visitors and local loons when one or the other have zoomed toward our point and done their dances within a few feet, at times inside the focusing distance of our longer lenses.

Everyone loves the babies, newly born, riding on the back or swimming along side the parents.  In this case it was a family outing.  The lives of these little guys is very tenuous, and every year there is a bald eagle that shows up only when the loons have their babies.   It’s actually the only time of the year that we seem to be able to photograph bald eagles on this particular lake.

Here’s junior loon, only a few weeks old.  He still hangs out with mom but he’s a big guy now.  The parent will stay with the offspring, but even when they are very small the parent will leave the loon for significant periods to join the feeding group that is inevitably created when outside loons visit.  We were heartened that this baby loon will reach adulthood.

Oiling the beanie feathers…

Typical wing stretch….

This photo shows both the baby loon and a foot waggle, the latter being one of a handful of typical behaviors, possibly to stretch or relax according to Northland College’s observations.

Loons have evolved for aquatic activity with bone densities that are several times higher than most other birds, the ability to shut down systems to preserve oxygen while underwater and ‘double’ lenses for underwater vision, sort of like swimmers’s goggles.  What is missing in all this is good flight characteristics; loons have high stall speeds, heavy bodies and short jet-like wing spans.  As a result they make what I’d call ‘soft field’ take offs where they paddle, paddle to assist in getting airborne, stay in ground affect to reduce drag by skimming the water and then slowly build speed into a climb and finally circling the lake as they gain altitude.  This photo shows the loon as he finally gains flight just above the water line.

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