Common Loon at Surry Dam

Posted on Aug 7, 2015 in color, photography

I had a very interesting photo outing at Surry Dam this morning. As soon as I reached the elevated bridge connecting the road to the top of the dam, I spotted a great blue heron perched on a rock downriver, patiently hunting in the Ashuelot River. After snapping several way-too-far-away photos of the heron, I worked my way quickly across the dam, down on to the lawn on the southern side. Trying to approach stealthily, I reached the edge of the grassy lawn overlooking the river just in time to see the heron take flight, heading downriver away from me. Clearly, I need to do some work on my fieldcraft.

I headed back to the top of the dam, and followed a trail on the eastern end of the dam down to a small beach at the base of the dam on the northern side. I found a nice rock to sit on at the edge of Surry Mountain Lake, and patiently waited to see if something interesting would fly by. After waiting for what seemed an eternity, I saw a large brown-winged bird flying across the lake. I attempted to focus on the large bird, but from that distance only managed to focus on the distant trees. It was probably a Canadian goose, but my photos were far too blurry to tell for sure.

Deciding that I needed to move, I noticed that the water level in the lake was unusually low, and that much of the eastern shore which was usually under water was exposed. I decided to make my way along the short to see how far I could get. I was able to capture a perspective of the dam that I had never seen before.

Photo of Surry Dam taken from the exposed eastern shore

About thirty yards past that spot, I startled a large bird off to my right. The large bird flew in front of me heading to my left. Training my lens on it, I could see that I had flushed a bald eagle from one of the large trees on the riverbank.

Bald eagle flying over Surry Mountain Lake in Surry, NH

After losing sight of the eagle, I scanned the area to my right looking for a nest. The shore was lined with a mixture of dead and living large pine trees, and I concluded that it was a perfect area for a nest even though I could not pinpoint its location. Hoping for a return visit by the eagle, I crouched low on the muddy shore of the lake and started another round of patiently waiting for something interesting to appear. After about twenty minutes of this, I decided that my knees had had enough crouching and stood to stretch a bit. I was hearing plenty of bird noises around me, but nothing would reveal itself to me.

Moments later, I heard a big splash in the lake just in front of me. I also started to hear loud bangs going off much further to the North, near Surry Village. After hearing a few more loud bangs, I realized that someone was firing a rifle. I also began to wonder about that splash I had heard earlier. Had I mistaken one of the rifle shots for a splash? I did not have to wonder for too long though, because off to my left there was something in the water, way off in the distance.

Training my lens on the water, I struggled to find the spot that I had seen. Had I been imagining things? I lowered the lens to have another look. I could not find anything in that spot, but then off to the left, something popped up out of the water. I managed to zoom in on it, and could see that it was some kind of bird. It was still too far away to identify, so I decided to follow it until it disappeared again below the surface of the water.

What kind of bird is this? It floats like a duck, but disappears beneath the surface for long stretches before popping up again. What kind of bird does that?

After several rounds of spotting the bird only to lose track of it again, it finally came close enough for me to identify it. Zooming in on it, I realized that I was having my first in-person encounter with a common loon. I had seen photos of loons before, and even knew the sound of a loon’s call. However, I had never seen one in the wild, and I had definitely not played hide and seek with one before this encounter.

I took quite awhile for me to get used to the pattern of losing the loon, finding the loon again, and quickly snapping off a few photos before it disappeared again. Fortunately, the loon was patient with me and gave me enough cycles to get into a good rhythm. I learned how to quickly run down the beach and jump over downed trees to get into a better position while the loon was submerged. I learned how to quickly zoom into the loon’s position once I spotted it on the surface of the lake with my naked eyes. The following series is the result of that training, my first encounter with a common loon.

A common loon rises out of the water

A common loon rises out of the water

A common loon spreads its wings

A common loon spreads its wings

A common loon floating peacefully on the water

A common loon floating peacefully on the water

A common loon stretches its wings out wide

A common loon lifts its wings out of the water

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