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Common Loon

July 29, 2010

Location: Adirondack Park, NY

Last weekend, we camped on an island on Forked Lake in the heart of the Adirondack Park. The first morning, fellow blogger and my sweetheart Jack Ballard and I paddled a canoe to the end of the “fork” where we happened upon a mother Common loon (Gavia immer) with two chicks. It was a chance to observe a Great Northern Diver in closer proximity than I had before. We watched with interest as the downy gray chicks napped on their mother’s back, plopped in the water, tried to dive, then climbed smoothly back onto their maternal raft.
Like an elk bugling in the Rocky Mountains, the warble of a loon is a true call of the wild. Several pairs of verbose loons resided on Forked Lake, calling to their mates, warning intruders, and summoning their young. Loons leave the nest after only a day, though they remain under their mother’s wing, often literally, as they cannot fly for three months and take about three years to reach adulthood.
Aided by their red eyes, which help them see underwater, loons catch and eat fish usually before they resurface. They have a rearward “tooth” on the roof of their mouth that holds the fish. Loons are truly water-birds, going ashore only to mate and nest on wooded lakeshores.
Whenever I see loons, I can’t help but think of the first episode of Wildlife Journal (PBS) that I co-hosted a decade ago. While bass fishing on a lake in central New Hampshire, I spoke about how biologists have linked lead in fishing tackle to loon mortality. Loons dive to the bottom of the lakes ingesting gravel which aids their digestion. If small lead sinkers are mixed into the gravel, then the loons get lead poisoning. Fortunately, small lead sinkers (under an ounce) are no longer permitted by most states, allowing loon populations to return to healthy levels.

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