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Adirondack Loons

This weekend Matt Zeitler and I took a trip up to Saranac Lake in hopes of photographing some loons...

Common loon flapping its wings 6/24/17.

Common loon flapping its wings 6/24/17.

Well, we did just that. What a truly incredible time it was. I've never had much experience with loons before the trip, so it is safe to say I was blown away! 

The actual location where we set out was just outside the township of Saranac Lake. Here, a system of different ponds (although they were actually giant!) come together, forming a massive area of water, and a great spot for loons. We photographed by kayak, giving us incredible access to both the birds and their habitat, as well as a nice low angle to the water. It can be quite difficult at times to both focus the camera on the birds and keep the boat in the right position, but when it works out the results can be spectacular. 

Despite some strong winds and rough water Friday afternoon, we decided to brave the conditions and paddle out. The first hour or so was relatively quiet, with a loon or two showing their faces only from a distance. Common loons hunt underwater, as they are great swimmers. They can hold their breath for minutes at a time, sometimes making it difficult to keep up with them. One second there's a loon in front of your face, and the next it's gone. There was a lot of this going on ... 

We finally caught a break when four loons decided to fly in and set up in the middle of the pond. They were super accepting of our presence this time around, providing for some nice photo opportunities. 

I love the water droplets on this bird's head 6/24/17.

I love the water droplets on this bird's head 6/24/17.

At this point the wind had really set in. There were waves all over the water, making it incredibly difficult to stay in one position. Matt had much better luck keeping his cool, as he's seemingly had a few more years experience in the kayak than myself! As I battled the omnipotent elements of mother nature, Matt was repeatedly clicking away award-winning photos... Go check out Matt's blog: it's called Orange Birding. 

The next morning was much more rewarding as far as photographs and calm water go... 

Common loon at first light 6/25/17.

Common loon at first light 6/25/17.

We paddled out before the sun broke the horizon, and found a super cooperative loon almost immediately. We spent almost an hour with this bird alone!

Common loon portrait. This bird and I came together as it swam directly towards me and I silently floated towards it 6/25/17.

Common loon portrait. This bird and I came together as it swam directly towards me and I silently floated towards it 6/25/17.

It was tough trying to capture the surroundings and the birds in the same frame. Between the rocking of the kayak and the difficulty of holding the camera up and down, only a few of these shots are sharp 6/25/17.

It was tough trying to capture the surroundings and the birds in the same frame. Between the rocking of the kayak and the difficulty of holding the camera up and down, only a few of these shots are sharp 6/25/17.

Nearby, we spent a couple minutes photographing its nest, which its apparent mate was sitting on. Unfortunately we did not have any loon chicks on this trip; we were a bit early. Though, it was definitely a treat to have a loon on the nest - something I've always wished to see! 

Common loon on the nest. Matt spotted the nest as we paddled by 6/25/17.

Common loon on the nest. Matt spotted the nest as we paddled by 6/25/17.

... we didn't have loon chicks, but we did have chicks. Any guesses? 

*excitement builds* 

Common merganser chicks looking for their mother, as she dove underwater 6/25/17.

Common merganser chicks looking for their mother, as she dove underwater 6/25/17.

Common merganser chicks!!! 

What an awesome encounter this was. As we paddled out early in the morning, we ran into this mother and her 8 (!!!) young as they swam around. The light was still poor at that point, but luckily later in the morning on our way in shore we would see them again in the sunlight! Common mergansers have never really been on my list of favorites, but I have to say, seeing these gorgeous chicks up close was truly special. I'm glad I could capture it! 

8 common merganser chicks on their mother's back!! 6/25/17.

8 common merganser chicks on their mother's back!! 6/25/17.

Before leaving town, Matt and I stopped by a few local trails in hopes of some other species. The targets were boreal chickadee, gray jay and black-backed woodpecker. We had brief looks at a young gray jay and heard two black-backed woodpeckers, but struck out on the chickadee. We did however get a nice look at a male Nashville warbler which was nesting nearby. This was a first for me. 

While kayaking, we put together a short, but nice list of species. Of note were a few cerulean warblers, northern parula, blackburnian warblers, black-throated green warblers, belted kingfisher and a pair of bald eagles.

This bird worked its way from the tree tops to this shrub only a couple feet off of the water. Blackburnian warbler shot from the kayak 6/25/17.

This bird worked its way from the tree tops to this shrub only a couple feet off of the water. Blackburnian warbler shot from the kayak 6/25/17.

I like this as a farewell shot... Contrasted common merganser and chicks 6/25/17.

I like this as a farewell shot... Contrasted common merganser and chicks 6/25/17.

There are so many wonderful aspects about upstate New York, and I'm learning to appreciate them more and more the older I get. The vast mountains and lakes, the local food and people, the fresh air... everything about these places is just so refreshing and rewarding. The trip to get there may be long, but the good times last longer. I can't wait to be back!