Saturday, 25 August 2012

Loons and lots more; Lac le Jeune, Briitsh Columbia

Common Loon (male)

I have done some wildlife photography in Canada before and have visited British Columbia on several occasions; for meetings and as part of an enjoyable family holiday. The chance to escape the sultry climate of near-equatorial Singapore and be amongst the cooler but frenetic activity of a Canadian spring was too tempting. I also wanted to catch up with ex-colleagues in Vancouver and reminisce about bygone times as we pioneered tertiary level cell biology research in Singapore.
The photographic shoot I was heading for was near Kamloops and organized by Greg Downing, a good-natured, gifted photographer who I had toured with previously in Costa Rica. Sometimes arriving in Canada can be an ordeal, on a previous occasion I had to endure a 30 minutes interrogation when I told them the main object of my visit was to shoot polar bears.  I thought my error was to omit the mention of a camera but Greg, inundated with photographic equipment, suffered the same fate this time and he is a regular visitor. Greg annually runs a series of three, three-day workshops he titles ‘Loons and more’.

Lac le Jeune accommodation

Lac le Jeune

Entrance foyer

My bedroom

I spent three nights in a hotel on the outskirts of downtown Vancouver to recover from my flight, meet my ex-colleague and pick up my rental car. Vancouver was generally excited because they were in the late stages of establishing ice-hockey supremacy in the finals of the Stanley Cup. They were one game up in the final series with an away game and a home game if necessary to establish the winner. History will tell that Vancouver blew both games and the long-suffering local fans with pent-up emotions partook in damaging riots in downtown Vancouver. I had an alibi….I was arriving in Kamloops at the time.
My rental car was ‘upgraded’ to a 4WD Volvo wagon that was commodious enough to aid the escape of all the Vancouver ice hockey team.  It was nice to drive though with the comfort-level of sitting in your favorite lounge chair in front of the fire and driving through the changing countryside.


Evening Grosbeak (male)


Hairy Woodpecker (male)

In tropical South East Asia the weather is essentially the same all year round but in the clutches of snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures in most parts of Canada the wildlife hibernates or flies out to return to breed in a frenetic and restricted period after the thaw occurs. The thaw was a late in 2011 and the Loons, the main subject of the workshop were a bit behind schedule. In anticipation that mother nature was not well equipped with a Rolex or a rule book I had booked for six days of shoots, which was a good strategy as the main Loon action culminating in the appearance of chicks did not occur until the last day of my stay.
The accommodation for the workshops was Lac le Jeune Resort that was strategically located between two lakes, the larger of the two being Le Jeune Lake. The accommodation was very comfortable and the host and staff were exceptionally friendly and accommodating. The host was a keen wildlife photographer, which helps considerably in that they know exactly the requirements of our particular sub-species. The host’s vehicle was a source of interest with it’s own interior ecosystem and cracked windows that suggested an escape from somewhere in the war-torn Middle East.

Northern Flicker (female) and chick

Red-naped Sapsucker pair

Mountain Bluebird (male) with a caterpillar

Mule Deer doe nuzzling her fawn

Red-necked Grebe and chick

The lodge had a real home-comforts feeling. The food was fantastic. Large stuffed local toy animals sat on the beds and adorned the small conference room. Ralph the tame squirrel ran in through the front door to help itself to a small bowl of peanuts especially set aside for him. A small note warned hungry wayfarers that the nuts were exclusively for Ralph….it didn’t mention that he sucked more than he ate….so any sneaky eating might get more flavor than anticipated.
The weather was not totally cooperative during my stay but there were enough windows to do have some good shooting sessions. Each morning, or evening if the weather permitted we would go out on Lac le Jeune to photograph the antics of the Common Loons and hunt for new chicks. Our platform was a pontoon powered by electric motors front and back with a conventional gas-powered outboard for faster travelling. The electric motors were controlled by two remote controls like those found in the average domestic living room. One motor had more power than the other and Greg needed the dexterity and patience of a puppeteer entertaining a children’s birthday party to get us into appropriate positions. This was not aided by sneaky Loons who would lure you into a certain tantalizing distance and then submerge to appear, grinning, half a mile away. The lakes were well stocked with fish, which leaped from the water all around the boat. It was somewhat hilarious speaking to a companion at the other end of one of the smaller boats to have a silvery, temporary audience of startled looking fish appearing behind their unsuspecting head.

The main shooting pontoon (right)

Shooting from an aluminum boat (Greg in the center)

In between excursions onto the lake we photographed Woodpeckers, Grebes, Mountain Bluebirds attended nests in the nearby countryside and adjacent lakes. Some small suburban watercourses on the outskirts of Kamloops also provided photographic targets as they hosted various waterfowl and their offspring. There were also local birds around the lodge to shoot as they visited various feeding stations.
Excursions into the countryside were not without incident. On one occasion a companion and I, in his rental car, were surrounded by a posse of hungry, and seemingly semi-wild, horses. We decided to exit with some speed when they started chewing the wipers and rear-vision mirrors and gouging the paintwork with sharp teeth. On another occasion we were photographing Bluebirds returning to a nesting box on a relatively remote country road when a car the size of Texas approached and stopped. The driver, a large man with a Stetson perched on his head, Western boots and a large stomach corralled into jeans with a wide, huge buckled leather belt approached us as if we were about to have a saloon-style shoot-out. It transpired he was the President of the local Bluebird Society and he wanted to know how many of the distributed nest boxes were being used in the vicinity.

Redhead male displaying

Ruddy Duck (male)

Mallard ducklings

American Coot adult with chick

The sudden onset of spring weather meant there was much activity in the animal kingdom. We saw young moose grazing by small lakes and Mule Deer watching over young fawns while they grazed on the grassy slopes.
On the penultimate day there was welcome news that there were Loon chicks spotted on two nearby lakes. As the morning mists rolled off the lakes we launched several smaller aluminum boats powered by electric motors to acquire some iconic images of the chicks riding the parents’ backs.  To maneuver and shoot took a bit of skill and practice in order to line up all the elements of a successful shot. I think it was achieved and I was happy driving back in the early hours towards Vancouver as I recalled a successful and recommended shoot.

Red-naped Sapsucker flying from nest-hole

Common Loon chick being fed by a parent

Common Loon with chicks

Websites; Lac le Jeune Resort
                           Greg’s at Naturescapes

Graeme Guy  August 2012


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