Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Allure of a Loon

On small quiet lakes surrounded by trees, we watched several Common Loons – one or two at a time – maybe the most characteristic bird of our visit to Maine. Its name seems to me unfortunate, because a “common” loon is one of the most fabled and mythical of birds – large, dark and exquisitely patterned, with a preference for wilderness and solitude, and an aura of mystery. It’s called common because it lives further south than other loons, so is seen by more people.

Late one morning on a warm, sunny day, one Common Loon floated low in the water, not far out from where we stood along the shore, though unfortunately we didn’t have a camera at the time. For several minutes it stayed on the surface, not diving, so we could clearly see its ink-black head, red eye and long, pointed black bill; the black back checkered with white; on its throat, a thin crescent necklace of fine white stripes, and around its neck a wide white collar of stripes. After a few minutes, it began preening, raking its bill through feathers on its breast and under its wings. Four or five times, it rose up out of the water in a flurry of splashing, flapping wings, stretching up to show its pure-white breast and belly in a tall, extended posture that’s apparently part of its bathing routine – sort of shaking off at the end.

Though I listened and hoped, we never heard the call of a loon – an experience that continues to elude me.


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