A Day Adorned in Monochrome

A light rain fell, not enough to help with the ongoing drought, but enough to get you wet if you didn’t have enough sense to stay out of it. A stiff wind made the forty-degree temperature feel like thirty and swells roiled the surface of Fellows Lake, an 850-acre impoundment on the Little Sac River, five miles north of Springfield, Missouri.

Parked at the marina boat launch, we scanned the lake with binoculars, trying to find the Red-throated Loon reported by the eBird Rare Bird Alert the day before. We had seen Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots and a raft of Buffleheads, but no loons (other than the three in the car.)

As we were about to give up, I spotted 8-10 loons to the west, a flotilla of dreadnoughts cruising parallel to the bank, moving away from us. According to the eBird Alert, the Red-Throated Loon was associating with a group of Common Loons, so this was a good sign. 

With no spotting scope, I needed to get closer. The shoreline curved north into a cove and the birds were moving out of sight. I left the car and headed along the shore, but angling north on an intercept course.  

Thanks to the drought, the water level was at least 10 feet lower than normal. This left the thicket of buttonbush that lined the shore high and dry. The buttonbush provided cover for me as I approached, but presented a formidable barrier once I got close. 

Peering through the brush, I could see the birds though they were further out than I had hoped.

Oh so carefully, I inched my way through the buttonbush. Not an easy task for a man my size and I collected several bloody scratches on my arms for my efforts.

Staying inside the brush and using it for cover, I scanned the birds to see if the Red-throated was present. At least eight Common Loons bobbed with the swells, but none would morph into the Red-throated.

I watched for a few minutes, getting wetter and wetter. I managed to catch one bird stretch and flap his wings. Makes me wish I had been closer and the light hadn’t been so shitty.

Soaking wet and with water dripping from my camera, I no longer cared if I spooked the birds. Leaving the cover of the buttonbush, I walked directly to the water’s edge, moving as close to the loons as I could get. 

This was the best shot I got all day. I’m not delusional, I know it’s crap along with the rest. But considering the conditions I was shooting under—the rain, the wind, and the dark leaden sky—they could have been worse. 




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