I have a belief that when I spend time patiently watching wildlife or just quitely waiting and thinking, I'm actually building up good will. Eventually there will be a moment when I'm gifted with a glimpse of one of Nature's secrets or I gain a little insight into how the world works. Sometimes it takes years for an insight to happen, and sometimes the world seems to open up and reveal one gift after another.
One morning I had a wealth of beautiful moments and observations showered upon me.
As the sky was picking up color from the impending sunrise I put the kayak into the edge of a lake hidden in the National Forest. With a few paddle strokes I was gliding out of the lily pads into open water. Moments later I watched a doe quietly leave the water, wading onto the same point of land that I had just left.
The deer along this lake have one of the most unusual deer trails that I've ever found. Two points of land come together at the mouth of a little bay and form a pinch spot. The deer travel a trail that goes down one hill on my left, through the water at the mouth of the bay, and up the point on the right. The doe was leaving the underwater part of the trail and coming back on shore.
I watched the doe merge into the ferns along the water's edge and then disappear. I stopped paddling as soon as I saw her and she never looked my way, so I'm not even sure if she knew that I was there. Once she was gone I started paddling out of the bay into the main part of the lake. Off in the distance I heard the sound of a loon muffled through the early morning fog rising off the water.
I headed in the general direction of the loon call, but before I got much further I saw three loons to the west. These loons would be lit by the rays of the sunrise so I turned towards them. When I'm working with loons I prefer to have the loons come to me. I try to figure out where loons are going and then meet them there. Loons are very shy birds. I don't like to scare them by moving direcly towards them. If I pick a spot where I think the loons are going and the loons continue to go there then I know that I've not pressured them or scared them. I also try to only paddle when the loons are under water.
Before I was able to go very far I heard another loon, only this time the loon that I was hearing was in the air. As I looked up three more loons circled and then came directly towards me for a landing. I was definitely where the loons wanted to be!
The three new loons landing joined the three on the water. And soon the first loon that I'd heard and another loon joined the rest. Normally loons are very teritorial and don't tolerate interlopers, especially near nesting areas. This was the most loons that I'd ever seen together, and I knew that I was witnessing something very special.
Occasionally, during the summertime, unmated loons or loons that did not successfully raise young will get together in social gatherings. For the next couple hours I was able to quietly photograph a wide range of behavior while the loons were completely oblivious to my presence. Never have I had so many loons in the view finder at one time and seen so many fascinating interactions!
Eventually the loons started drifting away, either flying back to where they came from or heading back to their corner of the lake. I headed my own way too, not wanting to bother the remaining loons and feeling completely sated with this glimpse of a very rare moment.
As I headed towards the south part of the lake I heard the clanking call of a Sandhill Crane. I lined the kayak up and waited for the great bird to clear the tree line. When it flew by I made a series of images that captured the poetry of it's flight written across the sky. Bobbing in the kayak I reviewed the images, I could see the russet tones of it's head, the grace of it's wing beat, and even the veins of its feathers were sharply defined. It was shaping up to be quite a day.
Along the waters edge were the grey weathered trunks of dead trees that served as the focal point of another social gathering. Dozens of newly fledged tree swallows lined the branches, trunk and holes of one of the trees. Some were resting their wings while others were waiting for a parent to stop by with food. I waited and was rewarded with a photograph of one of the adults feeding a youngster while several others tucked into different parts of the tree wait their turn. The juvenile bird has it's mouth open expectantly and the adult's wings are extended. One brief, beautuful moment frozen in time.
On my way back through the bay I stopped to photograph baby muskrats clambering over trees floating in the water. I couldn't help laughing at their near sighted oafish innocence. When I finished I let the kayak drift on it's own into the lily pads. I thought how I couldn't imagine a more perfect day. I pulled out my thermos, poured a cup of coffee, and leaned back, savoring the moment. Just as the cup touched my lips I tilted my head back and saw her.
In the midst of the lily pads was a small island no more than four feet across. And curled up on the island was a tiny fawn.
I try not to make direct eye contact with deer because it makes them nervous, so I looked the other way, slowly finished the coffee (I've got my priorities!) and got ready to photograph her. She was only about 10 feet away and I actually had to back the kayak up to make good images of her. I suspect that she was crossing with the doe earlier in the morning and crawled up on the island to rest. I may have passed within feet of her on the way out of the bay.
I photographed her so that she was surrounded by lily pads and I composed the image so that the viewer has to look through the scene to find her. Hopefully she will give the viewer as big of a surprise and be as much of a reward as she was for me when I found her.
After I finished making still images I took a little video. In the video she turns her head back and grooms along her side. Then, without a care in the world, she lays her head down and goes to sleep. After that I very quietly left her. As I paddled through the bay I found myself thinking that it couldn't get any better than this. Just then I heard a chit chit chit chit, chit chit chit chit over head and looked up to see a juvenile bald eagle flying over.
So many gifts in such a short time, it was almost overwhelming! Those kind of days are among the peak experiences of my life. They are the moments where all of the waiting pays off, when I feel like I have a true rapport with the world and that I'm right where I'm meant to be.