It was a pristine July morning, about 30 minutes before sunrise. The air was clear and cool, the lake still with a slight mist hanging in the distance. It was quiet and the feel was early summer. Beth and I pulled up to a dirt boat ramp, unloaded our kayaks and made ready for our search for loons.
As we quietly launched our kayaks, to our surprise a loon popped up from under water not more than 20 feet from the end of the small dock. It was as surprised as we were. In seconds, it dove and disappeared.
We could see a loon family in the distance – one adult and two chicks. We started to paddle. With silent strokes slicing through the water, we edged closer to these beautiful creatures. Loons are classified as threatened animals and are protected by the state of New Hampshire. A minimum safe distance for viewing is 25 meters. Too close and the loons become agitated. An adult loon will dive, then surface hundreds of feet away. But an adult with very young chicks will not leave the chicks, instead, it will swim hard and fast to avoid encounters, enduring undue stress on the birds.
Chicks will often climb up on the backs of the parents to get warm and dry, or sometimes to just take a rest.
It can get a bit crowded, but when they are small enough two chicks on a parent’s back can be seen:
The Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough monitors all loons in New Hampshire. Through a volunteer network of 1000 members, loon activity is monitored throughout the year and the information is managed in a computer data base. Their website is www.loon.org. They are dedicated to the preservation of loons and their habitat.
When I spoke to John Cooley, a senior biologist at the Loon Preservation Committee, he indicated that the current season was going well for loons, with improved nesting success over last year. The recent improvements in the loon population are due in part to the efforts of the Loon Preservation Committee.
To get these closeup photographs of the loon family, I used my Canon 500mm lens with a 1.4x extender (700mm equivalent) attached to my Canon 5D Mark II, all handheld in my kayak. Yes, at first, I was very nervous about taking my most expensive lens and camera out on the lake, only inches from the water surface. But fortunately, the water was calm, there was no wind, and the opportunity was too good to pass up. So anticipation overtook reluctance and the thrill of getting these photographs made it worth the risk.
Be sure to view this video of a loon family with audio of the haunting call of the loons. Loons were made famous by the movie, On Golden Pond, which was shot on Squam Lake close to where I shot these images and video.
The video is a bit shaky because hand-holding 10 pounds of camera gear in an unsteady kayak while shooting video is a huge challenge.
Photos of Rich taken by Beth Seeley.