Birds on the Water (plus 1)

Living on the Wisconsin river is a treat. I can sometimes get some decent shots without leaving the yard. In the last couple of years I’ve come to realize that if I hear loud wing flapping it usually means a loon is close. They’re the only birds that stir up a ruckus when they’re preening. In some ways it’s hilarious and others beautiful, but it’s always interesting and energetic. So when I hear the flapping I head down with the long lens to see what I can capture. First an adult in the early morning sun –

Morning ablutions

The light was pretty decent and so I increased the shutter speed to 1/1600 second and while not perfectly frozen, the water droplets really crank up the energy in this scene. I also love the backlit wings. It made the face a little hard to see, but I brought up some of the shadows in post and I think it works pretty well.

Another time I heard flapping it was in the afternoon and to my delight it was a juvenile!

Not just one, but two!

I have no idea if they are siblings or not, but probably. Common loons are territorial and often raise two chicks. The youngsters stay on their natal lakes until after the adults leave for their wintering sites. I think it’s probably to keep putting on weight and developing strength until they can make the flight. Typically loons fly to the ocean nearest to their summer or breeding areas. They are one of the first waterbirds to leave and I don’t know why since there is plenty of open water and warm temperatures through the fall. It could be that their chemistry changes to handle salt water food prior to their migrating and that triggers their travel. Or maybe it’s just daylight hours or something more mundane. Either way, I miss them when they leave. Seeing or hearing them is one of the delights of summer in the Northwoods and I’m really excited that a pair has chosen this little bit of river for their breeding territory. Since they habitually return to the same nesting site each year, I hope for many years of baby loons and adult shenanigans to come.

I’ve learned that I need to go down to the dock with the long lens no matter what. It never fails that when I go empty-handed, there is something great. Like this napping loon that I was prepared for even though I had no idea it was there. They don’t sleep for long and usually do it on the water with one eye open. Naps are in the 10-20 minute range and they have several per day.

If you scroll back up to look at the first photo, you might notice the light is a little strange. That’s because at the time there were wildfires in Northern Minnesota and Southern Ontario. The air smelled like a giant campfire and there was heavy haze in the distance everywhere you looked. That made the light pretty strange sometimes, like with this juvenile GBH –


It’s in a very shallow bit of the Wisconsin upriver from the house. My neighbor and I were paddling around and I put the boat into some plants to hold still. I was thrilled that I got a shot of it with lunch! The white balance was weird though and I did my best to show the odd light, but not to distort things too much. Later we drifted downriver and the haze and color cast wasn’t as intense. There was an adult GBH that we’d encountered on the way up, but because we were paddling (and chatting) it hid pretty quick. On the drift down we didn’t actively paddle as much and it stayed out in the open. Funnily enough we’d stopped here on our way up just to soak in the scenery. It’s pretty muddy on the bank and we just beached they kayaks. While sitting there I noticed fresh GBH tracks and so it wasn’t a surprise that we saw the bird in the same spot. Must be good fishing!

My post-processing skill with Photoshop is improving – I had to remove a couple of branches that were really dark and looked like they were about to stab the bird. Can’t do anything about where they pose, but I can clean it up. It doesn’t work for everything, but I’m always surprised at how well a lot of the tools work, especially Content Aware Fill. It definitely made this photo better.

Like on our last drift down the river, we saw deer. None were lying down, but this one was alternately browsing and checking us out.

So that’s a wrap. At the time I’m writing this fall foliage season is just coming off peak, so I’ve been out and about quite a bit and just need to get editing! Trail shots, Prairie River shots with a big change, foliage reflections and canoodling garter snakes in a really strange place. Stay tuned!

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