Driving over six hours to photograph Common Loons sounds a little looney, but the call of the Loon in the morning was worth it. Also, this destination is one of the best places for photographing Loons. Lac Le Jeune is well known among the best bird photographers from Canada and the US.
Why is Lac Le Jeune a great place for loons? Based on my photographic experience and observation over a four day trip there are a number of reasons for driving to Lac Le Jeune to photograph Loons. The most important reason, there are lots of loons. At one point while photographing we were surrounded by six loons, too close at times for my 300mm F4 Nikon at times. The lake is shallow in most places and thus when the loons dive they don't stay under water for a long time. The lake is small, maybe two km in length. Actually there are two lakes connected by a small passage way under a bridge near the Lac Le Juene lodge. A note of caution the bridge is barely high enough for a person in a Kayak. The loons use this passage way as well. The smaller lake is for powerless or electric motor driven boats only. As I traveled the lakes I observed rainbow trout jumping. This would explain why the loons like the lakes, a good food supply. There are a lot of fishermen on the lakes in boats. Overtime the loons become accustomed to the boats and allow a close approach.
If you are planning a trip to Lac Le Jeune to photograph loons some preparation is required. I would recommend a 300mm or longer lens. However, a longer lens will be difficult to handhold in a the boat as it is always moving around. I used a 300mm F4 Nikon and got some very sharp photographs. The trick is to be able to photograph from any angle. Early morning light is the best light of course; the lakes are usually calm and the wind is light. You will have to boost you ISO to at least 400. Most of my photographs were shot at 600 ISO plus. A flash with a Better Beamer flash extender will help in low light. If possible try to photograph the loons against a dark background in early morning light. On my trip the weather was not very good, but as a nature photographer you have to adapt. Also, don”t forget the basics of bird photography, light in the eye, etc.
As always a little knowledge of the subject helps when on location. Loons nest lakeside and incubate their eggs for 27 to 30 days. They are a group of aquatic birds found in many parts of North America and northern Europe. There are five loon species in the world. The Common Loon (Gavia immer) is the most widespread and well-known of all. Loons grow up to three feet in length and weigh up to 12 pounds. They have large, pointed bills, and their feet are set far back on their bodies. It is believed that loons are among the oldest groups of birds still living today. The first loons appeared over 50 million years ago. Another interesting fact is the Common Loon's eyes turn red during mating season. Also, no one knows for sure how long a loon can stay underwater, but it is for a long time. For more info on the loon see this link www.photosbyrayricher.com/about_loons.php.
To get to Lac Le Jeune, from Kamloops, British Columbia travel west on the Trans Canada Highway (hwy #1) for 11.4 km. (7.1 miles). Turn south onto the Coquihalla Highway (hwy #5). Take exit 336 off hwy 5 and drive northeast a short distance on the Lac Le Jeune road. Turn right at the Lac Le Jeune sign post and follow for about 1.6 km. (1 mile) either to the provincial park or to the resort area. It is approximately 35 km. (22 miles) from Kamloops. If you decide to make the trip to Lac Le Jeune to photograph the Common Loon I would recommend you book the lodge (Lac Le Jeune Resort - http://www.lljr.ca/) and boat six months in advance. Remember the biggest threat to the loon population is human encroachment. Always make birds welfare a priority.
David LiIlly is a professional nature photographer living and working in Calgary, AB he also teaches photo workshops. His photos have been published in PhotoLife, Calgary's Natural Parks, Alberta Nature Magazine and Fine Scale Military Modeller. Dave shoots with Nikon equipment.