Shooting a Yellow-billed Loon Nest

Recording intimate wildlife behavior and sensitive locations calls for a very careful approach.

Yellow-billed Loon, Canon R5C, 600mm with 1.4X, 1/1000 sec. @ f5.6, ISO 1600.

This summer I fulfilled a longtime dream to shoot in-depth behavioral coverage of one of my favorite birds in the world, the Yellow-billed Loon. Along with a crack crew of veteran wildlife photographers and filmmakers, I spent seven weeks in a remote field camp on Alaska's Arctic Coastal Plain and Tragopan blinds were a key component of our work allowing us to carefully film intimate behavior of many arctic nesting species. At times, we had as many as six Monal Photography Blinds out at a time! For me, the Yellow-billed Loon was the highlight. We had three nesting pairs within walking distance, all very shy, but a carefully planned and executed approach over several weeks put the loons at ease and our cameras in position to capture behavior that has never been filmed before.  ~ Gerrit Vyn

Cinematographers Shane Moore and Michael Mauro setting up a Monal Photography Blind
Veteran Cinematographers Shane Moore and Michael Mauro setting up a Monal Photography Blind.

Carefully Introducing A Blind

Our field location was extremely remote and most of the loons in the area rarely, if ever, encounter humans on the nesting grounds. Loons are also susceptible to terrestrial predators like bears and wolverines so they were extremely shy and unapproachable when we arrived. Because of this, and not wanting to take any chance of keeping a loon off of its nest, we first set up a a Monal Photography Blind over a hundred meters away. We then periodically moved it small steps closer, every couple of days, over several weeks. It was a slow process but the loons smoothly habituated to the blind and our occasional presence. By the time we were ready to shoot we were very comfortable that we could do so without any disturbance to the nest or birds. And indeed the nest fleged both chicks as we watched!

The Right Blind For the Job

A large cinema camera requires a lot of space and we were shooting in wet tundra terrain so the Monal Photography Blind was the perfect choice for this work. Shooting out of the side of the blind provides plenty of room for a large camera with room to spare for stretching ones legs and the waterproof floor keeps things tidy. Here Michael Mauro, host of the Wild and Exposed Podcast, gets his RED camera setup.

Putting In The Time

Shooting comfortably from a blind makes it possible to put in the time necessary to capture those special fleeting moments in nature. When it was time for the chicks to hatch we manned the blind around the clock and were rewarded with images of the chicks as they first emerged from under the adult and periodic visits by the other adult bringing small fish to feed them.