Waseca County Pioneer 111 W. Elm Ave.

Waseca, MN (507) 837-6767


WILDFOWL - Photos Deb captured on a northern Minnesota lake.                                                  

My fixation on area wildfowl

Perhaps my largest fixation for watching wild animals is for hummingbirds; it’s almost mystical to see them hovering in one place, their wings only a blur around them. It is no effort but rather a pleasure for me to make the concentrated sugar water that goes in their feeders and to keep the feeders clean and full. 
In exchange, I get to watch them come, go, and quarrel among themselves–or are they making mating decisions?  Whatever their intent, it is uplifting to see them circle each other chittering, or perching on a nearby branch like a sentinel to keep other birds away from a particular feeder.
Even though I tell them constantly that there’s plenty for everyone, the face-offs continue.
I also enjoy watching much larger birds. The other day I saw a small group of full-grown turkeys walking with sets of young who were obviously from two different hatchings: three of them were about 18 inches tall, the others were more like 8 inches. I happened to be in my car, but not moving so I got to watch the group of them amble along the roadside before tucking themselves into the nearby grass.
I have also been stalking some herons who seem to live on a pond along a route I drive often. Though they pay no attention to a fast-moving vehicle, they become nervous when one drives slowly or, worse yet, stops so the occupant can try to take some pictures.  Even though the photos I’ve gotten have been pretty unsatisfactory, it is still a privilege to see the birds wading through the shallow pond obviously foraging for food.
This past weekend I was staying on a quiet little lake in northern Minnesota. Called Big Bass Lake, it doesn’t have the sort of fishing that pulls in a lot of attention, so it’s more of a rural community–one in which everyone knows everyone else.  There are often two pairs of adult loons on the lake each spring. The cabin owners keep track of how many young each pair hatches and watch over them like well-intended, nosy neighbors.
Everyone takes note when the adults give their lilting “distress” or “danger” call. The most likely threat is an eagle out to grab itself one of the chicks. One cabin owner told of an incident a few days before during which some folks across the lake realized the eagle was out hunting, and so purposely took their boats out into the water in the vicinity of the loons.
I felt exceptionally privileged during my stay: I looked out over the water and there, only a few feet from shore, were two loons floating serenely. One of them even appeared to be asleep and simply drifting.
I grabbed my camera and slid along the lakeshore, stepping out onto the docks of people I knew would be patient with me.  I snapped a lot of pictures and moved back and forth across docks a fair number of times, but am thrilled to report the two loons let me get astoundingly close to them at times. They didn’t seem to mind me, standing still and quietly aiming my camera, but other disturbances nearby caused them to move around a bit–never really frightened, just cautious.
I told Eli before I left on this trip that, if I got some good loon photos, I was going to ask him to publish them.  Well, this column, and my fixation, are my excuse.  As you see from the pictures, they are immature birds, probably hatched this spring, but now independent enough to be away from the adults.
Choosing which photo to share was very difficult…in some, they were so relaxed they were stretching their legs out in back of themselves. The quick flips that they gave their big, flat feet were strongly reminiscent of a wave–so much so that I couldn’t resist “waving” back a time or two. But you don’t have to know much about photography to know that certain elements–good focus, strong framing, a well positioned subject–are vital.
Fortunately for me, the two loons were so patient I was given many, many chances.  Here’s hoping that you find a chance similar to mine, one in which you get to completely satisfy one of your life’s fixations.
Get out there and enjoy yourselves, everyone! There’s magic just around the corner; all you have to do is find it.


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