When I went to Vermont a couple of weeks back, I drive over 600 miles round trip with the red Impulse 10 strapped to the Jeep’s roof racks. It was my first time taking one of the kayaks on a trip of that length and it went off without a hitch. And while there were several factors behind my decision to travel with the kayak, there was one primary, driving idea that outshone all the others: I wanted to get on the water at Kent Pond and photograph loons.
Common Loons appear visibly similar to ducks, although they belong to their own separate family. They are also much larger – closer to the size of a goose than a duck. Much like grebes, they are expert divers, natural predators below the water – highly agile and deadly in their pursuit of fish. When a loon dives, it’s there one moment, bobbing on the surface, and the next it’s simply gone. It may re-appear almost anywhere on the water, traveling a surprising distance in any direction or popping up only inches away.
My experience with loons has been very limited; I’ve only photographed them two or three times before, and in each case it was at long range and under difficult circumstances. (Once in the rain at Bald Eagle State Park several years ago, and again this past spring in the surf off Assateague Island.) I knew from my visits that they nested on an island at Kent Pond and, while my timing may not have been ideal to see baby loons, I should have decent odds at seeing adults.
And I did – or at least one adult, although I suspect that he (she?) had a mate nesting on the island.
The island, I should note, was set inside a restricted zone, marked with about eight floating sights like the one pictured above, notifying boaters of the loon’s nesting activity. I caught a glimpse of the loon early in my paddle around the perimeter of the pond, but it wasn’t until I was nearly finished that I got a good look at him.
I was keeping my distance and was probably about twice as far from the island as the exclusion zone required; I really do my best not to stress or disturb the wildlife I photograph, and try to be especially aware of the effect my presence has on nesting critters, or those with their young.
If the wildlife chooses to approach me, however, that’s an entirely different matter.
That’s what happened in this case; while I was bobbing around, wishing that the loon was closer in the frame, he began moving towards me. It is sometimes difficult to accurately judge animal motives, but I really think he was curious about me – his behavior seemed to express and interest in me and the kayak.
Over the course of several minutes, the loon closed to the point where I was zooming the lens back out to keep him in the frame. He crossed in front of the kayak no more than 2 meters from the bow. He continued on the surface for a short while, than began to dive again, making two underwater runs nearby before he dove for a final time and I lost track of him.
Being in such close proximity to a wild loon, that first thing that struck me was how big they are. Like most wildlife, in my experience, you don’t really appreciate their true size until you see them up close. Loons are big – much larger than your average duck. And shining from that red eye was a clear intelligence.
Their coloring is nothing short of lovely. I hadn’t realized that loons were anything other than black and white until now, but up close – and in the photos – you can see that their black hood is really a deep iridescent green, while the band below it is a deep iridescent blue.
To top off this morning adventure, I was treated to several loon calls while on the water, both the long, eerie, almost mournful wail that they are well known for, as well as the laugh-like cackle, which is apparently their alarm call.
So in the end it was well worth it to bring the Impulse along – my mission to find and photograph loons was a definite success. More than another photo in a growing collection of achievements, it’s another memory that will remain with me, another interaction with a beautiful, amazing creature. And in the end, I think that’s what it’s really about – the interactions that come from this adventure in photography.
Shooting Info: E-M5 + Olympus 70-300mm, f/6.7, ISO 1600 taken from the Perception Impulse 10