October 10, 2022

Chasing Loons in the North Woods.

Loon Land

For the past couple of summers I have found myself chasing loons around a chain of five lakes in Northern Wisconsin. I grew up with loons at our family cabin just outside of Cumberland. From the time I was 12 we spent summers and winters enjoying all that the north woods had to teach us. Admittedly, as a kid I really paid no attention to them. I loved their songs and the beautiful music that echoed across the lake at all hours of the day or night. That was about all.

Fast forward several decades....

We not have our own summer lake home. I not longer work a dead end job where my best skills are set aside while I try to save the world. At some point I realized I needed to save myself first. In doing so, I never looked back.

I have found the quietness of this lake home to be a refuge, along with the quiet paddles in the early, morning with my old green very stable kayak.

A few summers ago I purchased a pretty good insurance policy for my equipment. I figured out that I would be able to capture great images if I put myself where the action was.

In the mornings if the lake is flat and the weather is mostly awesome, I wrap my Nikon D850 and my 150-600 lens in to a towel and place it into my dry sack then set out. I do this with a fully charged iPhone and air pods, a great audio book and paddle, sometimes the entire lake system going through five lakes looking for loon groups.

Loons from the channel between lakes

Loon Pair-Spring 2022

A fine gathering of Loons-2022

Observed behaviors

Beginning a couple years back, while fishing, my husband and I observed a loon pair in the mid spring, early summer swimming in the cove where we were casting. They were swimming close together, near the shoreline. I just happened to have my heavy tripod and again my long lens. I zoomed in on them just to watch. With in a few minutes I captured one of the most interesting images of all my loon captures. They were fornicating, or as I call the image "Fucking Loons." It is one thing to watch this take place on some TV documentary, but to see it yourself was pretty rare.

It is still one of my favorite captures.

The other one also came by happenstance. It was early spring, Ice was out and the loons were returning back from a winter in a warmer climate. I was own my dock watching four very active loons. It was mating season and the loons were doing their best at finding their perfect mate. They were swimming all over the opposite side of the lake from where I was standing. I had my camera, long lens and heavy tripod and was actually trying out the new gimbal I had recently purchased. (The purpose of a "Gimbal" is to perfectly balance the weight off a camera so you can effortlessly move you camera horizontally and vertically. ). Zooming in as far as I could to just watch, I was startled by a noise not more than ten feet from me.

Swing my camera to the left and zooming back as fast as I could I captured two male loons in mortal combat against each other. Lasting only a moment and WAY too close to get off a tack sharp image I did the best I could and captured a series of fighting loon images. It was very surreal.

We often think of these beautify creatures as serine, peaceful birds that carry a heavenly song. This was a whole different animal.

I have been lucky and blessed to spend my time watching and learning about this bird.

Fornicating Loons- June 2019

A fight for dominance-Spring-2021

Loon Parents

Loon Parent and Loonlets -2022

Loonlet Pair-2022

Protective Loon parent-2022

Getting to know the Loons

I never started out thinking I was ever going to do anything other then capture great images of these beautiful birds. Then I came to realize there were differences in each loon to the point where I could easily recognize a few because of specific anomalies. For example there is one on our lake that I called "Knob Head." Knob head is recognizable because his head appears to be a bit deformed. As his forehead slops downward towards his beak he has a pretty large "Knob" making him stand out from the others. This year there was also another loon I watched throughout the summer who had an open head wound. It is these interesting things that made capturing their images so fun.

With Every ending is a new beginning

As this cabin season comes to an end, so do the sounds of the loon echoing across the lake at three in the morning or six in the evening. Oh how I will miss this high pitched, lonely sounding cry and the beautiful sound that always causes me to stop and pause. To drink it in and to know that when I return in the spring, my loon friends will be here to greet me and I them.

Loon at Ice Out -Spring 2022

Loon in molting season-Fall 2022

“...only when one comes to listen, only whence is aware and still, can things be seen and heard.”