Birds + One

By: Larry Asam

Volume 19, Issue 1, January 2024

One morning while rowing up the north side of Grenell Island, I looked back towards the McElfresh place and realized that rowing was an interesting metaphor for life. You can see clearly where you have been but only have clues about what is ahead . . . These morning outings, searching for birds to photograph, are full of the unexpected.

This loon dove in about four feet of water, just as the fog was lifting. [© Larry Asam]

Loons are always captivating, resting one moment, preening, or diving the next. In 2022, I missed photographing a loon as it dove and swam under my boat. In 2023, I managed to capture a similar event but there is room for improvement.  Aside from how fast it all happens, the camera wants to focus on the surface of the water rather than the loon below. This will take more planning . . . Stay tuned.

Mergansers had been eluding me all spring. Then in June, this mother duck and her ducklings swam into view. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, the ducklings seemed to be having a great time riding around on mom’s back. It’s fascinating how attentive waterfowl are when caring for their young. A little later in July, a lone merganser lingered for several photos before swimming away.

One morning I was searching the shoreline for something interesting, then I looked up. There was an osprey being buzzed by a Baltimore oriole. A treat to see. Another time, while floating along the shore, I found myself looking directly into the eyes of another osprey on a low perch. The memory is etched into my brain. Whenever I look at this image, I re-live the experience of seeing such a powerful bird up close.

An eagle flying along the pine trees. [© Larry Asam]

Eagles are often seen at a distance but occasionally they “cooperate” and get close enough to photograph.  Since eagles are known to have a territory from 2 ½ to 15 square miles, I believe the ones seen in our neighborhood are the same pair.

Swan and cygnet in Blind Bay. This photo received Honorable Mention in TI Life’s 2023 photo contest. [© Larry Asam]

In June, while observing the wildlife activity in Blind Bay, this swan and cygnet were swimming nearby. Then the cygnet was on the mother’s back and they lined up perfectly for this back lit image. Mute swans are an invasive species in the Thousand Islands, but I’m still struck by their beauty. [See Janet Smith Staples’ story in the TI Life December 2023 issue:  Thousand Islands Life, Caution Swans Ahead]

Mallard ducklings [© Larry Asam]

It was the beautiful reflections that caught my eye when these mallard ducklings came near.

Kingfisher on a perch in the Wellesley / Murray Island Narrows. [© Larry Asam]

Several times throughout the summer kingfishers, blasted past my camera. Finally, in October, a kingfisher paused long enough for a few shots. This little bird has a striking presence.

In mid-October, there were several yellow-rumped warblers and cedar waxwings flitting about our cedar tree. They were fueling up on berries, preparing for the fall migration.

Plus One

A monarch butterfly dancing with a zinnia. [© Larry Asam]

Part of the unexpected while floating around is where your mind goes – or doesn’t. Sometimes it is remarkably blank, an experience that can be very peaceful, and it opens the door to possibilities. Other times, it leads to appreciation for the River, its beauty, and the bonds formed with people you might not meet otherwise. Another recurring thought is fragility – fragility of the environment that supports all these creatures that enrich our days. Considering the environmental crisis facing the world, I worry about their future . . .

The monarch butterfly is a prime example. Along with their beautiful “designer wings,” they are efficient pollinators and an important part of the food web. The monarch population has declined 80% in the last twenty years – mostly due to loss of habitat, pesticides, and climate change. These thoughts about the fragility of the environment lead me back to John Swift’s review (June 2023 Thousand Islands Life, Vesper Flights, a collection of essays) of Vesper Flights by the British naturalist Helen McDonald. This excellent book has poignant thoughts about life and how we interact with nature, both critical considerations for navigating our future.

By Larry Asam

Larry Asam spent winters in Stowe, VT, and then several years in Snowbird, UT, in his first career as a ski instructor. Then, in the 1990s he started taking photographs at weddings. Soon couples from around New England discovered his ability to catch the excitement and beauty of their wedding in photographs. By 1997, wedding photography became his full-time occupation, and this continued for almost 15 years. One look at his website and you’ll see how he is able to capture memories that last a lifetime. For the last ten years, Larry and his wife Kym have been part of the Grenell Island community.

[Editor's Note:  I can't imagine a better way to start 2024 than appreciating nature and as importantly, beautiful photographs. We thank Larry Asam, our Silver Medal winner in 2023, for sharing these with TI Life readers. Truly inspiring.]

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 1, January 2024, Photographs, Photos, Essay

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