Thursday, May 1, 2014

Loon in the River

Common loons don’t breed in Northcentral Pennsylvania, although occasionally one will spend the summer in the area. Those are typically either first-year birds that aren’t ready to breed or ill birds, usually suffering from lead or mercury poisoning. This bird in non-breeding plumage was here in July.
July 3, 2012

More common are birds that are passing through on their way north to breed or, in the fall, on their way to spend the winter on the ocean or saltwater bays.

Walking along the river I saw a loon in full breeding plumage in the middle of the stream. It repeatedly dove and finally made its way closer to shore where the camera could capture decent images. A loons often do, it would swim for a while with its head submerged as it sought prey – 

Loons can control their buoyancy, enabling them to sink below the surface without any visible movement – which it did as a helicopter passed overhead –

The bird slowly swam further out in the river –

 And dove pursuing something to eat –

When it finally resurfaced, it was so far out from shore that it was indistinct.
Years ago a friend and I drove around the largest lake in the area during the first week of May and counted 106 loons on the 300 acre lake. The birds were diving and resurfacing frequently which made it hard to get a precise count, but we both felt that 106 was reasonably accurate. There were certainly loons so far from shore that, even though we were using binoculars, we wouldn’t have been able to distinguish them from the rolling waves on the water. 
Many years ago I spent a summer on a lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains; there were several pairs of breeding loons on the lake and their haunting calls echoed across the lake day and night. Thus began my fondness for the common loon, a fondness shared by many folks across the northcountry of the U.S. and Canada. The loon symbolizes wild country and clean water, things that a lot of us do not want to do without.

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