Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nature Interlude: Bird Babies and Loon Attacks

I most often use this blog to post about art projects, visits to art exhibits and museums and other artsy excursions, and other art and/or education topics.  But every so often I like to take a break to share a little bit of nature with you, through my camera.  I guess it is still an artsy post then, since I'm using my photography to share the magic of the natural world, which can be inspiration for other artwork, or art lessons and projects with students. Today's post is one of these nature interludes.  [Above, baby Red Wing Blackbirds]

In the theme of baby birds, this loon [officially, a Common Loon], above, is sitting on a nest, presumably on eggs.  Loons are water birds, and only come ashore to nest.  Their legs are placed very far back on their bodies, which makes it pretty impossible for them to walk much at all.  This is the first time I've ever seen a nesting loon, and the last time I come anywhere near a mama loon on a nest.  Actually, the pic below shows more accurately how far I was from the loon.  All closeup photos of the loon (and of the red wing blackbird babies) were taken using a zoom.  There's no way I'd ever get so close.  Anyhow, when I discovered the loon on the nest, I took my kayak in a wide arc around it, attempting to keep a respectful distance. [By the way, the other bird in the pic below is a Common Grackle]

I had kayaked from our Adirondack family camp [a seasonal cottage near the shore] to the little marsh at the north end of the lake [Loon Lake; one of two in the Adirondacks].  I always enter the marsh the same way, heading toward one side where there's stumps and logs where I often find turtles basking, past the tree where I saw a magnificent Bald Eagle a couple of years ago, aiming toward the weeds in the back of the marsh, where sometimes if I'm lucky I'll spot a Great Blue Heron fishing. 

And that's when I saw the loon, on a platform that had been placed in the lake several years ago, for loon nesting.  But I've never seen anything on the platform before, other than a turtle and some dragonflies, so I was caught by surprise.  We always have loons on the lake, but I've never spotted where they had nested.  I drifted slowly, taking pictures.  The loon seemed undisturbed, turning her head one way, then the other. 

After a bit, she slipped into the water, taking a peek my way, and then swimming in the opposite direction, which I took to mean she was fishing.  At this point I decided to continue toward the back of the marsh, to look for other wildlife.  Then, the loon went under, and suddenly surfaced directly in back of my kayak.  I was stunned.  I quickly tucked my camera between my knees, and the loon dived again, this time surfacing right in front of me, beside my kayak.  She was angry.  She motored forward directly at me at high speed, inches from my face, spreading her massive wings and beating them furiously against the water, her beak opening and closing, and her red eyes blazing.  I paddled backwards furiously,  until I was able to turn the nose of the kayak away and head forward, toward the back of the marsh, heart beating at breakneck speed, hands shaking.  I kayaked to the far side of the marsh, while she patrolled from the center, watching me until I exited and headed back into the open lake.  I don't recall when else I've been so terrified.  I doubt I've ever paddled faster, and I don't think my heartbeat slowed and my hands stopped shaking until I was back at my dock, a mile and a half away.  I have no plans to return to the marsh any time soon...

My visits to the baby red wing blackbirds have been much calmer, and much safer.  I discovered the nests at a pond just minutes from my home.  There's a well-used walking path around the pond, and walkways into some wetlands.  I frequently take walks around the pond, and always bring my camera, because there's lovely gardens.   

I've discovered three nests with babies at various stages of development, and I know there are more nests deep in the rushes.  Very cool.  These pics are a variety from my visits to the pond, every  few days.  The baby birds develop very fast!

Here's mama with a caterpillar in her beak, ready to feed her babies. 

And here's dad.  He looks like he's pacing! 

 This baby was developed enough to be kicked out of the nest.  The babies hang onto rushes until they are able to fly, waiting for mama or daddy to bring food. 

 I've named this baby Mr. Grumpy-pants.  Look at that face!

Enjoy the nature around you this summer, and take your time! Most of the people I see walking at this pond have no idea these baby birds are just a few feet away from them.  I feel so privileged to have made these discoveries.  But take my reminder: wild animals, no matter how beautiful, are ultimately WILD.  You cannot predict their behavior.  I certainly have learned that!


  1. Amazing photos, Phyl! How big would you estimate the loon to be with wings outstretched?? VERY SCARY!!

    1. They are big birds, average size about 32" with an average wingspan of 54". (I just looked it up!). I would guess, then, that she was average or on the large size. And yes, VERY scary!

  2. I can imagine a little realistic fiction story for kids with Mr. Grumpy-pants.

    1. What a clever idea! I am not a story writer, but if I was, this bird would certainly be great inspiration!