Thursday, July 29, 2010

Photographing Birds in the Adirondacks

This year, we thought we knew the trick:  to steal off in a canoe right after breakfast and head to the far end of Elk Lake.  That way we were certain to come upon a great blue heron busy fishing before it was startled off by someone else.  That had worked the year before, after all.

It takes about an hour (for us at least) to paddle from the Lodge end of the Lake to Wagon Wheel Landing in the Narrows at the other end.  That’s assuming, of course, that your aim is straight.  Our first time this year, we were way off course.  We hugged the shore, poking into several coves before we found the right spot.

It’s a fool’s errand, really, to try and second guess where the birds you’re aiming for will be.  This year, despite several outings on the Lake, we caught only glimpses of a heron flying overhead.  Near the Landing, where last year cedar waxwings were abundant, this year we found not one.

In the end, what happens on the Lake is not that you find the birds, but they find you.  All you can do is try to be ready and, mission impossible though it is, keep the canoe positioned so the light is at your back and not the bird’s.

All of a sudden, you’ll find yourself, as we did this time out, between a pair of loons.  Or a rock will move, and you’ll realize, too late, that you’re seeing mergansers on the move.

Or you’ll be sitting at Wagon Wheel Landing, and warblers will flit maddeningly in the trees, just out of sight.  Or, while you’re busy looking for that great blue heron, a flotilla of ducklings will appear, under the watchful eye of a mother duck.

Really, it’s nigh impossible, without a proper lens—which according to the masters must be at least 400mm, and preferably 500mm, long (with an expenditure of dollars in many multiples of that)—to catch your bird just right.  Let alone, as the masters also recommend, to photograph the glint in a bird’s eye.  Last year, though we got within ten feet of a pair of loons, all the eyes in the photographs were swallowed up in the deep black of their heads.  Who are they kidding?  I have enough trouble getting the bird’s back in focus, let alone the glint in its eye.

Still, it’s fun to try.  And every now and then, you get lucky.  Last year, I got lucky with the mergansers.  This year, with the loons.

The birds in the slide show include the American Robin, American Black Duck, Black-and-White Warbler, Black-Capped Chickadee, Cedar Waxwing, Common Loon, Common Merganser (female and fledglings), Great Blue Heron, Hermit Thrush (best guess), Ring-Necked Duck (female and ducklings), Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, and Song Sparrow.

For a related post, about Elk Lake, click here.


  1. Very nice!!! I've always loved the sound of the Adirondacks

  2. Not only have you captured the sounds and scenes few of us ever get to see... you've also documented a kind of ellipsis, a sense.. a sensibility, so unstaged it seems as if the viewer has just stepped up behind you as your shutter is going off.. in the moment... or, we, too are pulling at the lake with an oar in that canoe, contributing to the lap, lap, lap... -ES

  3. Beautiful. I know the patience this must take. Taking what comes in life is easier.The wall behind me here is graced by one of your pics of a flottila of Mergansers.I look forward to reviewing at a later date, the birds of Wales and Aldersbrook!

  4. Thanks for the virtual journey. I love details such as the lineup of mergansers in which one of them (toward the back) has opened its bill in an endearing manner, or how you can see the red eye of the loon during breeding season.

  5. I felt like I was there with you in the canoe with the gentle sound of the water. Your photographs are stunning, you have captured the birds so beautifully. Such a lovely place.

  6. Hard to pick a favorite photo from such a gorgeous collection. But if I must, it has to be the pair of loons, red eyes glinting and elegant plumage reflected in the water. Just beautiful!

  7. Thanks so much to all of you for the wonderful comments! A welcome respite from trying to pack for Wales . . . hiking boots take up SO much room . . .

  8. Beautiful pics! My favourites are the loons too - and not just because they're called loons!

  9. Hang on a minute - you live there and you're going to Wales?

  10. Welcome, brokenbiro, and thanks for stopping by. You'll see I've responded to your very pertinent question over at brokenbiro. Off to pack those boots. One hour, and we're off to the airport, and yes, to Wales!

  11. They have airports?

    (I'm just joshing you... but bring your rainwear, it is wet!)

  12. I've never been to the Adirondacks and after reading your descriptions and seeing your superb photographs I feel like I don't need to. You must have captured the best of it.


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