Category Archives: Loon

Going Loony!

I am a very lucky woman.

Every year around this time, I go a bit loony – and no one seems to mind. My fam­ily and I flee the Florida sum­mer swel­ter for a lake­side camp sev­eral states to the north, a place where it can get cold enough to snow on Memo­r­ial Day and ice over in August. That is where it starts: the wail­ing, the yodel­ing, the hoot­ing, most of it in the dark­est depths of the night, car­ried at tremen­dous vol­ume over the still water, wak­ing sleep­ers and spook­ing the unini­ti­ated. These are the calls of the com­mon loon, and I am crazy for them. In fact, I’m a lit­tle bit crazy for loons period, and I am not alone.Two loons

These beau­ti­ful and intrigu­ing birds pop­u­late waters of the north­ern U.S. and Canada, their dis­tinc­tive black and white speck­led backs, white breasts, black necks adorned by a neck­lace of stripes and bril­liant red eyes a sum­mer­time fix­ture in the breed­ing grounds to which they return after win­ter­ing in dis­tant climes. And here “grounds” is a bit of a mis­nomer, as the loon spends most of its time in the water, except for when it is cop­u­lat­ing or incu­bat­ing its eggs.

waitingLoons are faith­ful birds, which accounts for part of my – and oth­ers’ – fas­ci­na­tion with them. Because they are gen­er­ally true to their home ter­ri­to­ries, return­ing year after year to their cus­tom­ary lakes, loon lovers go out look­ing for “our” birds. Are they back? Are their nests in the same spot? Do they have any hatchlings?

Loons are also faith­ful to their fam­i­lies, from mat­ing to the offspring’s matu­rity, and amaz­ingly egal­i­tar­ian in their duties. They even look alike. Mates share the work of build­ing the nest, sit­ting on the eggs until they Loon percarious position nest copyhatch, and then feed­ing and rais­ing their young. Last year, one of “our” mat­ing pairs built their nest on a nar­row bog unfor­tu­nately close to boat traf­fic, prompt­ing them to hop off fre­quently when fright­ened by motors or gawk­ers who came too close. The eggs, which usu­ally take a month to incu­bate, never hatched. Yet the par­ents sat there nearly all sum­mer long, devoted to their duty, hold­ing out hope.

We loon watch­ers love to look for a baby — brown in color at this stage — rid­ing on its parent’s back, warm and safer from preda­tors, until it is large loonchickonbackenough to both fish and fend full­time for itself. We love to watch an adult loon dive beneath the water’s sur­face and then wait while scour­ing the lake to see where it will turn up. Mature loons can dive to 200 feet and stay sub­merged for sev­eral min­utes, so track­ing their sur­fac­ing spot can be quite a chal­lenge – unless they call out. Which brings us back to that hoot­ing and wail­ing. Loon lan­guage is eas­ily under­stood once you get the hang of it. The hoot says, “Here I am!” or, “Where are you?” The wails back and forth help loons deter­mine dis­tance from each other. The yodel is for males only, warn­ing, “My ter­ri­tory!” And then there is the tremolo, the eerie vocal­iza­tion that sounds like a vaguely demented laugh but is actu­ally an alarm call. (Some think the tremolo is the inspi­ra­tion for the say­ing, “crazy as a loon,” but it may have more to do with the moon or lunar phases than with this ter­res­trial talking.)

This com­ing Sat­ur­day, my hus­band and I will hop in our kayaks and head out for the annual loon cen­sus run by the local con­ser­va­tion soci­ety. At the same exact hour on every lake in our area, vol­un­teers count the loons they spot. So far, so good. Local pop­u­la­tions seem to be sta­ble. Humans are band­ing together to pro­tect health and habi­tat. I hope the loons we loonchicksee reg­u­larly will show up at the appointed time to be counted, and not be off on a jaunt to some nearby body of water. They’re “ours,” after all. Or at least it’s fun to feel that way dur­ing the short time that I’m here and going loony.