The not-so-Common Loon

At one time it would prickle the back of my neck — an eerie wail from out of the dark somewhere on the lake. Now it’s the first thing I listen for each time we arrive. The call of our Loons.

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Our rustic little cabin is situated on a very small unpopulated lake in BC’s Cariboo country. Loons are territorial, and in the sixty-plus years of my summer and autumn visits, only once have I seen more than the one pair on the lake. That was decades ago, and I wondered at the time if the other pair were adults or juveniles, but they were never close enough for a photo, even with my zoom lens. Every year since then there have been just these two, piercing the lake’s solitude with their haunting calls.

Until this summer. One evening early in August I heard the familiar wails and warbles … a clamouring of assorted calls coming from the creek mouth just below our cabin. Thinking there might be a chance of some closer photos, I crept down the path to the shore just in time to see a whole group of loons moving out onto the lake — six of them!

I apologize for the shaky video, but I was shaking myself!

One seemed to be a slightly different colour, but the rest were alike, and I wondered once again if some were juveniles. Once away from the creek mouth, they drifted, circled and flapped, their various tremolo and yodelling sounds suggesting concern over an intruder. Then they slowly paired off and dispersed. I didn’t see them together again.

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There’s a mystique associated with loons. They are often featured in First Nations myths and art, and associated with legends of the North. I have a modest collection of them in assorted forms that range from a switch plate cover to candle holders, paintings, and sculptures, including a wood carving. They intrigue me!

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I’ve learned a number of facts about them:

  • they are larger and longer-bodied than a Mallard Duck, but smaller and shorter-necked than a Canada Goose;
  • unlike most avians, they have solid bones rather than hollow ones, which assist them in diving and staying as deep as sixty metres underwater for several minutes;
  • because of the placement of their legs far back on their bodies, they are clumsy on land but efficient in water and air;
  • they require a relatively long distance to gain momentum when taking off, and when landing will skim the surface on their bellies to slow down;
  • during migration they may fly for hundreds of kilometres at up to 120 kilometres per hour;
  • they produce a variety of vocalizations, but there are four main types of calls: the tremolo, the yodel, the wail, and the hoot. Each one communicates a distinct message.

I could get carried away with Loon trivia, but I’d better not. If you’d like to know more, Living Bird Magazine has a good article on loons reprinted on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: Spirit of the North, the Common Loon. The Cornell site also has additional information.

What does this have to do with my writing? Not much, except perhaps to point out that when doing research for a story, I need to put boundaries on the time I spend doing it! Interesting tidbits can lead to more and more online exploration, until I’ve spent too many hours and collected far more information than I need.

How about you? Are you a disciplined researcher, or do you sometimes get lost in the collection of data, too?

~

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(Judging by the grey bill, a juvenile Common Loon … I think!)