Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Photographing loons

A post or so back, I shared some photos of Common Loons nesting in a beautiful lake in northern Michigan. That prompted some notes from persons interested in loons and their conservation, wondering about how the photos were obtained.

I don't blame them. One of the threats that loons face is encroachment by photographers trying to get as close as possible to frame-fill their point & shoot cameras, or whatever it is they're using. Here's how mine were obtained. The above photo was made with my 17 x 40 wide angle lens, mounted to my Canon 5D Mark III full frame SLR. In the photo the loon and her nest are visible as a white speck on the front of the island. We're using a silent electric trolling motor on the pontoon boat so as not to create disruptive noise.

Time for the Sigma 150 x 500 telephoto lens. Zoomed fully, the lens transforms that speck into an obvious loon. The late day sun, from behind, creates excellent light on the subject and nice crisp images. Later, upon processing in Photoshop, Voila! The photos can be cropped to frame-filling size and the loon remains undisturbed and blissfully ignorant of its distant admirers.

Loons in the water are apt to approach you. On this nautical excursion, we weren't after the loons specifically, but were birding by boat as the marshy margins often have Sedge Wrens, Swamp Sparrows, American Bitterns, Common Yellowthroats, Alder Flycatchers, Belted Kingfisher etc, As we cruised slowly along, one of the loons approached and fished the nearby waters, snorkeling for fish and diving for meals. Easy photography on their terms.

The Michigan Loon Preservation Association has some neat photos that are better than mine, showing tight shots of adult loons with chicks at close range. You can see those HERE.

As these lakes become increasingly developed, more people mean more boats. Powerboats and jet skis, especially, are really tough on the loons. Some jerks chase them around, and heavy wave action from speeding boats swamps the shoreline nests and can destroy eggs. And the loons eventually abandon the lakes and their cool quavering wails are no more. Such has been the fate on many a lake in Michigan's lower peninsula.

Probably the best conservation to protect a lake's loons is to buy and protect the lands that buffer the water. And thus keep out development. A major reason that the Lake Nettie loons have flourished for decades is due to all of the protected house and cabin free land along much of its shoreline.

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