Monday, July 23, 2012

Loons of Lilley Lake

During the mid-1930s, fishing was good at Buck's Lodge. Over 70 years have passed now, and several owners have enjoyed their times of peace and quiet on this pristine lake. The cottage has held many names over these decades, and the fishing is still good into this new century.

Here is some evidence. A recent owner named Harry kept meticulous records of his fishing success for many years. A small sample from his log reveals his typical skill with rod and reel. It appears, according to the numbers, that he always had a fishing partner; because the limit here in Michigan is 25 panfish per angler per day. Take a look at his data:

Date          Caught          Kept                    Best

7-28-03          55               40                      9 3/4" Bluegill
8-25-04          98               51                      8 1/2" Bluegill
6-17-05          55               47                      10" Perch
6-18-05          52               40                      2, 9" Crappie

Harry was efficient; in his boat, and in his fishing log.

Dirk & Jan's lovely cottage on Lilley Lake.

We were fortunate to meet the current owners, Dirk and Jan, at "Kids' Food Basket", (KFB) where we both volunteer. It must have been Mary's delicious desserts after dinner at our place that led to an invitation to their cottage on Lilley Lake. That, and my keen interest in possibly getting a chance to photograph their Loons. Jan and Dirk had been following WWFN for several weeks, and were very gracious in offering me this opportunity.

Mary and I had not heard the Loon's call since our early days of tent camping. We had a site at Green Lake, now called Interlochen State Park, back in the '80s. This is near the world famous Interlochen Arts Academy (Interlochen), in NW lower Michigan.

We were eager with anticipation to hear the Loons of Lilley Lake. On the phone, Dirk kept saying he couldn't guarantee a sighting or a call, but they had been seeing the Loons quite frequently. I had been holding my hopes up for over a week.

Jan and Dirk are about our age. A kind, giving, and easy-going couple. They sincerely appreciate all the gifts they've been given in their lives, and have also endured serious physical hardships as well. They give credit to the Giver through their solid Christian faith for the gifts, as well as the source of strength to survive their years of trials. You would really like them. We sure do.

As a Master Carpenter, Dirk is a detail man, and the driving directions he provided were precise. We arrived one morning in late June, with my camera ready. Jan, the thoughtful hostess, offered refreshments on the deck before we scouted the lake for Loons. "Well, thank you Jan, but maybe we should look first while it's still early, then..."

Then, we heard the unforgettable call of a Loon in the distance!

We walked down the gentle slope to the lake, onto their solid, aluminum dock,  and climbed into their 14' aluminum fishing boat. Dirk thought our odds of approaching closer to the Loons were better in a smaller craft, rather than that comfortable and classy pontoon you see.

I chose a position in the bow; a padded seat with a backrest, and it swiveled. Perfect if we spotted any Loons. Mary sat in the middle seat, excited for a chance to use her new birthday binoculars.

Dirk used his 7 HP to slowly motor us along the east shore of this "no wake" lake. Lilley Lake spreads out for 58 acres, and in some places is 50 feet deep. About 1/3 of its perimeter holds modest cottages, while 2/3 remains wild and natural. A narrow channel connects to 34-acre Sisson Lake, which has only a handful of cottages.

We rounded the NE corner of Lilley Lake, with my hopes still optimistically high.

Dirk took us along the deserted north shore, now heading west.

This is Dirk our proficient pilot, scouting with his 7HP motor. Hoping we can find the Loons on Lilley Lake.

Suddenly we spotted them! About 160 yards away: one adult, and two chicks.

Dirk now switched from gas to battery power. Slowly, patiently, we moved closer. Barely a fold in the water from the quiet, electric trolling motor. Not even a vibration, just a subdued humming sound, barely discernible. We were making less wake than the Loons were as they swam around the area.

By this time, I knew for certain that Dirk was an expert at the helm. We gradually closed the distance between the three birders and the three birds. I anchored my feet on the rim of the bow, and held my heavy camera lens firm, my elbows braced against my knees, prepared to swivel and shoot. I've only got a 70-200 mm zoom (with 1.4X extender), so we needed to be quite close for a decent shot.

Would the Loons stay? Retreat into the brush along shore? Dive and disappear? Or immediately beat out a long and frenzied  escape?

You will know the results, and learn a lot about Loons when you view: