Posts in Category: Wildlife Photography

Tips and advice for getting great wildlife photos

Loon Chicks At Two Weeks

Our loon chicks on the easternmost pond I’m following, the ‘Easton’ family, are now two weeks old. There was lots of excitement on the pond this morning, with an intruding loon prompting a fairly active fight. This is the pond with the banded bird. The banders were unable to determine his sex when they banded him. He yodeled repeatedly this morning, identifying him as the male.

Admission to the pond has gone up to two bucks….
The chicks were napping with dad when I arrived. Mom headed off to forage by herself. The chicks soon woke, this one with a big yawn.
One of our chicks gives a good stretch.
Dad got the breakfast buffet going, once again heavy on the crayfish.
The intruder has just arrived on the pond! Dad has gone off to deal with the intruder, the chicks flattened out to hide.
Dad comes up with his wings out, displaying how big and tough he is in an attempt to get the intruder to go away.
The fight quickly escalates, lots of displays, lunges and wing rowing.
One of the loons – I think it was dad – coming out of the water with an aggressive display.
Another display, I’ve lost track of who is whom by this point.
One of the loons retreats with a short flight up the pond.
Mom has returned to join the fight. They’re back to circle dancing, sizing each other up.
The circling leads to another aggressive display.
One of the loons comes up in the penguin dance. This is an aggressive display warning that the loon will fight to protect the chicks and territory. Males do the dance more often than females.
Another round of penguin dancing, the loon is nearly clear of the water.
The displays set off another round of wing rowing.
More wing rowing.
The intruder retreats! The intruder took off and circled the pond very high above, calling continuously. Mom followed in flight, circling at a much lower altitude.
Dad rounded up the chicks and they settled in for a nap.
Eventually, the intruder departed. Mom returned to the family.
The resident great blue heron had arrived at some point, picking a tree with a good vantage to watch the proceedings.
Mom and dad set to work feeding the chicks again.
Our chicks aren’t tiny little fluff balls any more… One has climbed aboard for a nap.
As I was heading out, the resident osprey showed up to hunt.

Loon Fight For Territory

Today was another beautiful day to get out to check on the loons. I headed to the pond where the chicks had yet to hatch when I visited Friday. This is the westernmost pond that I’ve been watching, so these birds are the ‘Westons.’

There was a single loon floating by itself near the boat launch, and a long way from the nest. This is the pond that has had intruders challenging the home team for the territory this spring.

A ways down the pond, I found the home team lazily foraging with two chicks.

Out newest loons, one chick riding, the other is tucked under the far wing.
One of the parents attempting to deliver a 10 ounce fish to the three ounce chicks. The fish was uncooperative and the loon dropped it. The loon reached underwater for it, not sure if it caught it or if it was the fish’s lucky day.

Our family drifted out towards the middle of the pond when things got exciting.

The intruding loon surfaced right next to the parent babysitting the chicks and went for them. Loons intent on taking over a territory will try to kill any chicks. Without chicks, the holders of the territory have less to fight for. The loon doing the penguin dance is the home team male, with the intruder in front of him. After the skirmish, the home team loon returned to the family, then turned and yodeled at the intruder hiding at the far end of the pond. Only male loons yodel, so this was most likely a fight between our male and another male who wishes to take over his territory.
The male from the home team rearing up to try to scare the intruder.
The chase is on! The intruder retreats, with our male in hot pursuit. Loons in a heated territory dispute will ‘wing row’ (‘wing oar’ to our friends across the pond) across the water. If the pursuing loon can catch up, they will fight by hitting each other with their wings or their beaks. Fights go until one retreats or gets killed.
“When you strike at a king, you must kill him” – or face the consequences. The intruder tries to get away.
The fight continued up and down the pond.
Coming back for another lap….
Our male gains ground….
Loons wing rowing turn by dipping one wing into the water, the pursuing loon usually matches the move. With the spray, it can be hard to tell what’s going on.
And stay out! After chasing the intruder into the brush at the far end of the pond, our male returned to his mate and chicks. He spent several minutes yodeling in the direction of the intruder and pretty much any critter that moved around the pond. The intruder has retreated, but not left the pond. The fight may not be over.

Loon Chicks At One Week

This morning was a perfect morning to be a loon on an Upper Valley Pond. Well, I can’t know that for sure, but it was a great day to be a loon photographer… The family I visited – I’m going to call them the Eastons – had the chicks hatch Friday and Saturday a week ago.

I’m trying to follow three families again this summer. Last year, I kept trying to sort out which family we were looking at by the number of chicks. That’s not going to work this year, the first two families each hatched two chicks. (The third is due… yesterday.) So, This family, that had the two chicks last year is now the ‘Eastons.’ The second family in the last post is now the ‘Middletons.’ And the family still sitting is now the ‘Westons.’ (I’ve learned the hard way to be circumspect about where I’m working. I’m now getting something like 10,000 visitors a month and not all of them have the loons’ best interest at heart.

Let’s take a quick peek to see how the Westons are doing.

The home team was still sitting on the nest. There were two intruders on the pond, one interacting with one of the home team and another off by itself. I think this is one of the home team. The stretched neck shows the loon is alerted to a danger. In this case, the other loon is hiding and this one is trying to locate it.
This is probably the intruder on the pond. The loon was hiding up against a birch log along the shore. The black and white blended beautifully into the birch bark. Now, did the loon realized the coloring with hide him, or was this just chance? I’m betting loons are smart enough that this was intentional.
Along the way, I found a cedar waxwing gathering material for a nest. Apparently, the female does almost all the work on the first nest of the season. If they have a second brood, dad will help building or rebuilding the nest.
A hairy woodpecker peers out the front door to see what I’m about.

Moving east to this morning’s outing, one of the great blue herons on this pond usually gives me two nice photo ops a year. I think I collected one of them today.

The great blue heron wading through the fog shortly before dawn.
One adult was baby sitting while the other was off foraging as the sun rose. We’ve got on chick on back and one under the far wing.
Our chick woke up with a big yawn….
Our second adult soon appeared to serve up breakfast. Today’s menu was mostly fish – and all small enough for a chick – along with a few insect nymphs.
Both adults were soon busy foraging for the chicks.
This looks to be another insect nymph. Our chicks have greatly improved their skills at taking the handoff from their parents. Last week, they fumbled the handoff more than not, today they were on their game.
And another fish.
After a time, everyone settled in for a quick nap.
The adults were floating about 25 feet apart, each with one chick.
One of the birds on the pond last year was banded. Today was the first time I got a good look this season. Our banded bird has returned. The Loon Preservation Committee banded this bird over on Lee’s Pond in Moultonborough, NH in 2015. They were unable to determine the sex.
One of our chicks gives a foot wave. Lot’s of growing to do before that foot fits. Foot waving is thought to be a way for the bird to cool down.
After a bit of feeding, the chicks started to ride the babysitter’s back while the other adult continued to bring food for them.
Another shot of a chick riding.
One of our adults stretching.
And one of our chicks giving a stretch.

And a few more stretching shots, just because they’re fun…

Loon Chicks Have Hatched

The strong winds over the weekend kept me home – pacing wondering how the loon chicks were doing. This morning, the wind was calm, and when I got to the pond, it was fully five degrees above having to worry about breaking ice while kayaking. I was able to check on two loon families.

First, our bluebirds are back for a second clutch. I’m not going to post daily updates for them this round, just too many things going to keep up with them.


If you’d like to see loons, take a look at the Loon Preservation Committee’s site, they host paddling trips where you visit lakes where they know there are loons with one of their biologists.

All the loon photos are taken with long telephoto lenses and cropped to let me shoot without disturbing the birds.
When I arrived on the pond, I found one adult preening and lazily foraging by itself and couldn’t see anyone on the nest. As I paddled down the pond, I found the second adult still on the nest. But the chicks should have hatched already….

After watching a few minutes, a chick appeared from under a wing….. A little later the second one peek out.

While waiting for the family to leave the nest, the second adult appeared to be hunting ducklings. The loon flattened out like there was a threat , it swam along the brush where a pair of duck families were hiding. The loon would poke into the brush and look around. The mother ducks were not happy.

With the chicks still in the nest, the odds are that one hatched Saturday and the other Sunday. Loons will leave the nest shortly after the second chick hatches. If it is late in the day, they may spend the night on the nest before heading out. The adult on this pond waited for the sun to get almost to the nest before heading out with the chicks.

The adult that had been sitting with the chicks has left the nest and the chicks are getting ready to go.

Loon chicks are voracious. I’ve seen estimates that say a loon family will eat 500 pounds of fish, crayfish and other protein in a season.
The first order of business is to feed the chicks. Both parents will spend many hours feeding the chicks throughout the summer.
The chicks quickly picked up on the way feeding works.

I’m not sure what the parent is offering here. It could be a small crayfish or an insect nymph. Either way, the chicks seemed skeptical. The parent had to present it a few times before a chick took it.

One chick worked up the nerve to try the offering, but promptly dropped it.

The second chick finally took the offering and ate it.


The two chicks on the surface while the parents dive to forage.
One of the parents has just surfaced behind the chicks.

Another delivery of fish as the second parent looks on.
The second adult actually had another meal waiting just below the surface.
The chick settled down and dealt with one feeding at at time.
The loons on this pond last year were partial to feeding crayfish to the chicks. I’m curious if there was an abundant supply of crayfish, a shortage of fish or the parents just had a preference. One of the parents soon presented a crayfish.
The crayfish proved too large for the first chick to handle. The parent tried to give it to the second chick. The second chick couldn’t handle it either and the parent ate the crayfish.
I was able to stop at a second pond before heading home. The loons there had also hatched two chicks. They look to be just a couple days old.
These chicks have mastered riding on the adult’s back.
The second parent brought a fish. This chick has caught on quickly – after dropping the fish, the chick attempted to dive after it.
And, we have to have a stretching shot…..
The chicks pay attention to every move the parents make and will often mirror the adult’s position.

I hope to be able to follow these two families and a third through out the season. To watch them grow, sign up for updates when I add a post.

Local Wildlife

Many of the birds around the marsh are nesting, there are lots of parents hauling groceries back their nests, others still sitting on their eggs. The Canada geese have mostly moved on, making the local ponds much quieter places. Let’s see who was out and about this past week.

With several nice days, painted turtles were out in force basking around the local ponds and streams.
Turtles are out laying eggs around the Upper Valley. She”ll lay between 20 and 40 eggs. The eggs will take something like 80 to 90 days to hatch. The hatchling turtles may spend the winter in the hole she dug before venturing out in the spring.
Dragonflies and damselflies are abundant this time of year. They’re great mosquito hunters and prey for many of the birds around the marsh.
Eastern kingbirds are common around the marsh. They hunt insects, including the dragonflies and damselflies. Kingbirds will often perch on stumps or brush just above the water, darting out when a meal comes in range.
An eastern kingbird hunting insects over the water in the marsh.
Eastern kingbirds nest in trees along the edge of the marsh or fields. The female will incubate the eggs and both will work to raise the chicks.
Our loons are still sitting on their eggs in the Upper Valley. They should hatch within the next few days. Please don’t approach the nest or chicks, this was taken with an 800mm lens and cropped.
Another one of the local loons sitting on the nest.

And, of course, no visit to the pond is complete without a couple photos of the loon stretching.

This loon has just finished a shift of nest sitting and gives a good stretch.

A Peaceful Morning With The Loons, et al, June 8, 2022

Monday morning was a beautiful spring morning to visit the loons and friends. Provided one doesn’t object to paddling about in 42° weather. Let’s see what I found.

The Adirondack Loon Center is raffling off a Hornbeck Canoe to raise funds for loon preservation in the Adirondacks. Hornbeck boats are beautiful, very light weight boats, worth taking a look.

One of our pair of loons was patrolling the pond and foraging as the sun rose.
A few minutes later, the loon departed on an errand. The pond is surrounded by hills. Often departing loons have to circle the pond to gain enough altitude to clear the hills, giving me an extra change to get in flight shots.
A song sparrow went through his repertoire to greet the morning.
Mr. Oriole was busy hauling groceries to his nest.
A couple mergansers promenaded around the pond.
Even Mrs. Kingfisher was generous enough to hold still for a photo – quite the rare occurrence.
Our loon on nest duty took a break to stretch, preen, forage and nap after a time.
Streeeetttttcccchhhh…..
On the surface between foraging dives.
Settled in for a midmorning nap.

More Of The Usual Suspects, May 15, 2022

Last week’s beautiful spring weather let me head out in the kayak six times in various ponds and streams around the area. There is lots of wildlife activity going on, with plenty of photo ops.

A North American porcupine foraging along the water’s edge.

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Geese are still raising a ruckus, though they’re beginning to quiet down a bit as they’ve claimed their territories and have eggs or goslings.
Goslings are still sticking very close to their parents.
A wood duck drake showed himself – briefly – before taking flight.
A trio of mallard drakes pose nicely on a log.
But, every family has that one kid that doesn’t want to pose nicely.
Kingbirds are still sorting out who gets what territory and the number of kingbirds has grown greatly in the last week. Dragonflies have started showing up for the spring, giving the kingbirds nice targets for a meal.
This little olive-sided flycatcher is a deceptive one. He repeatedly called ‘quick, free beer!’ But, not only did he refuse to provide said beer, he refused to dispense beverages of any sort.
I got lucky and noticed a chickadee flying into a hold in a stump at the water’s edge. I got to watch both chickadees as they worked to improve the hole for their nest.
Both chickadees in the pair would fly into the hole and disappear for a few seconds before flying out with some debris they didn’t want in their nest.
A male yellow-bellied sapsucker working his sap line. Sapsuckers bore holes in living trees. They’ll return to the holes to feed on the sap and any insects trapped in the sap.
A swamp sparrow foraging along the shoreline.
There is lots of loon activity on one pond. I think there is a pair that have claimed the lake, but they’ve faced several challengers for the territory. One morning there were eight loons on the pond. So far, I’ll I’ve seen a fairly peaceful dispute. The loons circle each other and occasionally display to try to drive the other loons away. This is enough to settle some loon disputes, other times there can be a fight to the death.
One of the loons displaying.
This is one of the loons that was involved in the territory dispute. It has decided to leave.
One of the loons on the pond came over to have a look at me.
The loon apparently found me not worthy of interest and gave a stretch before heading back to the other loons.
One morning the pair of loons on the pond seemed to be searching for real estate to build their nest. They’ll explore along the shoreline and hummocks in marshy areas. They’ll occasionally poke at the brush, while having a quiet conversation. Eventually, the male will decide on a spot for the nest.
One of the loons with water dripping off his bill after pulling his head out of the water.
What I think is the resident pair of loons on the pond had a peaceful morning foraging on the pond.

Toadapalooza! Toad Mating Season Is Here

Spring takes a while coming to the North Country. A couple of pretty good signs that the risk of snow has passed is turtles coming out to bask in large numbers and American toads gathering to mate. I recently ran across a knot of about 200 toads getting together to find mates.

An American toad sitting on a log in the water near a gathering of toads looking for mates.

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A male American toad calling to attract a mate. Toads inflate their dewlap to give a shrill trilling call to attract females.
Toads gather in groups in response to the male’s call. Here’s a toad floating not far from the brush pile where the toads have gathered.
A toad hopping out of the water onto a log.
Adult toads live most of their lives on land, coming to the water to mate and lay eggs. The eggs will hatch into tadpoles which will develop into toads.
The male in the foreground was sitting on a log calling when he was approached by another male.
Male toads try to grab onto any other passing toads to find a mate, sort of like a every frat party. If they realize they’ve grabbed another male, they’ll let go and move on.
male grasps the female from behind. She’ll lay her eggs in the water, he’ll fertilize them as she lays them.
A head on view of a pair of toads mating.
Sometimes many males will try to mate with a single female. They’ll grab on where they can, making a toad ball.
It was hard to tell what was going on with this toad ball. I think there were five toads involved when I found it.
The males will keep trying to improve their grip and to knock the other males off of the female. It is hard to tell who is whom while they wrestle.
The males continue their struggle to get closest to the female and drive the other males away. And, here, the toad in the foreground is a newcomer to the ball.
Take your best guess for how many toads are in the ball. They stayed together long enough that I began to worry about the female at the bottom of the pile drowning.

The Usual Suspects, May 6, 2022

Let’s round up the usual suspects. I finally had time to get the kayak in the water and have ventured to a couple of the local waterholes. Let’s see who I’ve found.

Geese seem to be everywhere near the water this time of year. Lots of them coming & going or squabbling over territory. Here’s one inbound.
Another goose outbound.
One of a pair of geese that landed near what another pair of geese considered their territory. This goose left in a hurry.
Go away!, he explained.
Lesser yellowlegs foraging along the bank.
A swamp sparrow surveying the territory.
A male yellow-rumped warbler, aka ‘butterbutt’ and lots of his friends have been out gleaning along the water’s edge.
Mrs. Butterbutt thinks nabbing a tasty bug is as easy as falling off a branch.
Elvis, the kingbird, is back for the season.
I was headed upstream when I met a muskrat coming downstream.
A turkey vulture circling overhead.
An adult bald eagle flew down the river, briefly silencing the geese.
A murder of crows escorting a red-tailed hawk from the premises.
The crows seemed pretty insistent that the hawk move along.
I was lurking peacefully in the reeds when this bittern let out a pump-er-lunk just a few feet from me.
This beaver escorted me from one end of his pond to the other, slapping all the way.
The beaver put on a good show.
This is just after the tail slap, just a foot remains above water.
A common gallinule appeared – briefly – from the reeds.
And a male red-winged blackbird claiming his territory.
There was a pair of loons foraging on the pond Sunday evening. That’s the beaver in the foreground. The loons seemed unimpressed by his tail slapping.
A local common loon heads out on some errand. Loons are excellent fliers, but have to run across the water for many yards to get enough speed for liftoff.
Our outbound loon had to circle the pond a couple times to gain enough altitude to get over the hills surrounding the pond.
A loon stretching. That’s the beaver in the background.

I’ll be following a couple loon families throughout the summer, along with other critters. Sign up for notifications to follow along.

Mrs. Bluebird Works On Her Nest

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Today is the third day that Mrs. Bluebird has been working on her nest in our camera equipped nesting box. She made several trips in with material this morning before taking a midmorning break.

I installed a camera inside the box to let us watch their progress without disturbing them. Today’s video is in black and white because the camera has a automatic exposure sensor that switches to B&W in low light. We’re having a gloomy morning here in Vermont and there isn’t much daylight.

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