Capturing the moment

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I think all of us have witnessed an event in nature that left us saying, “If I only had a camera.” Several years ago, I was taking our two kids to school, and, as we passed over the river that flows through town, a bald
eagle flared up in front of my truck. It had just grabbed a hen mallard for breakfast. The mallard was still alive, and, from the vice-like grip of the eagle’s talons, the panicked duck stared at me as if to say, HELP!
There was no help for that mallard. Predator and prey, life and death … the scene is repeated in nature every day. I did not have a camera with me that day, which is probably a good thing because I would have undoubtedly caused a car accident while trying to photograph that scene. My mind recorded the event and it’s been played back hundreds of times since that day.
By spending time in nature, I get to see many of the usual daily occurrences, but once in awhile I’m privileged to witness something rare. I have always loved photographing loons, and I spend countless hours each spring and summer documenting their habits. Their welfare is important to me and I strive to photograph them in stress-free ways.
Wildlife photography, when properly used, can help uncover facts that lead to new and better management techniques. As a loon volunteer, I help collect data on the loon activities — number of adult loons on the lake, number of nesting pairs, number of eggs laid, number of eggs hatched, and number of chicks survived. All of this is documented and compared to previous years’ statistics so we can adjust our management plan, which includes placing as many as 19 loon nesting rafts around the lake as alternatives to natural nesting sites that are more prone to predation.
In the spring of 2012 while we were conducting our annual egg count, we happened to slide quietly up to a natural nest just as the female was preparing to lay an egg. As a photographer and a lifelong student of nature, I am trained to recognize signs of stress on my photo subjects and to back off before causing any problems. This loon, however, was not demonstrating any uneasiness at all. She had a job to do and she was going to do it, whether we were there or not.♦
-Steve Maanum joined OWAA’s ranks in 2011. In his home state of Minnesota, he teaches digital photography workshops through the public library system and gives school presentations to engage kids with nature through writing and photography. He also coordinates Minnesota’s Digital Photography Bridge to Nature project. Contact him at

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