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Dave Evers

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Common Loon

Common Loon Migration Update: March 26, 1998

Today's Update Includes:

First Early Sightings Reported
"At 7:00 am this morning I saw our first loon on Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin," reported Rick Krueger just a few hours ago. Amazingly, last spring the first loon was sighted on the same lake at 7 am on March 27th!

And from Indiana last Sunday, "One Common Loon on Geist Lake, 4 miles west of Fortville, Indiana," reported Jacque Jankowski of Mt. Comfort Elementary. "This is the first sighting. Normally between 10 to 12 Loons stop for a few weeks before heading North. YAY!! It is definitely spring!!!

As spring melts the ice from inland lakes, the first loons are beginning to spread into their northern breeding grounds. We have the first 11 loons to report today, and just wait until you see what happens over the next 2 weeks!

From New Hampshire, biologist Kate Taylor of the NH Loon Preservation Committee reports: "We've had a few sporadic loon sightings here in New Hampshire for this month. It got warm for a period, and 3 loons were spotted on local waters. Things got cold again, last week and most lakes re-froze. The latest weather report calls for warming, so I expect some more sightings. I'll keep you updated from now on. (

Field Notes from the Loons' Wintering Grounds
Now finishing up their work on the wintering grounds, here are the latest reports from the California and Florida coasts. Our observers there have noticed rapid changes in the 14 days since our last update. Loons really don't seem to leave the ocean early regardless of mild weather, perhaps because their molt takes place late in winter and they can't leave until all the new flight feathers are totally grown in. But spring is here, and on the first day of spring the first loon was seen flying after the winter molt in Monterey, CA. Here's the latest news:

Field Notes from California

March 26, 1998
The first sure sings of spring in Monterey Bay, California appeared during the last couple of weeks. Last Friday, March 20, I spotted the first common loon in flight since I arrived in January. It seems that common loons are just now finishing the molt into breeding plumage, soon after which, they migrate north. Many are now in near perfect black-and-white breeding plumage. Just 10 days ago I saw only hints of the black faces and white-spotted backs of the breeding plumage.

In addition, Pacific loons are gathering into really large groups--some numbering as large as 1,000 loons. These birds may be migrants stopping over in large flocks on the bay or they may be local birds gathering together ("staging") before taking off for northern breeding lakes.

I suspect by the next report, the sky will be active with flying birds as they prepare for or even initiate migration.

Until then,
Lucy Vlietstra
Reporting from Monterey, CA
Field Notes from Florida

"Full breeding plumage not yet evident but getting closer. I saw two loons flying," reported Francis Harvey of Panama City Beach, FL.

"Loons should be ready to migrate now but we are still seeing birds in winter plumage.," report biologists Joe Kaplan and Keren Tischler. "We have only seen one loon in breeding plumage (in Tampa Bay during the week of the 16th).

"Our work is going well. We spent two nights banding last week on Sanibel Island with the help of Jorge Coppin and Paul Ryan of Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. We were able to band 10 loons. Surprisingly, many were low in body weight just like the birds we have seen in the rehabilitation centers. It is hard to speculate what the reason is for all the skinny loons. We have made it to St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in the panhandle and will finish our winter loon work in northern Florida during the next two weeks."

In addition to watching loons on the Florida coast, biologists Joe Kaplan and Keren Tischler have been seeing a lot of Monarchs the last few days.

When was this picture taken?

Discussion of Challenge Question # 3
At what time of year was this picture taken, and how do you know? There are 2 clues in the picture; can you name them both? (See WWW.)

"We think that the picture was taken in the summer. The clues are the dark head of the loon with no white under the chin, and you can see green leaves in the background of the picture." Said Chris, Angie & Brian of The Learning Center in Georgetown, DE (

"I know the picture was taken in the summer because of the dark green head," agreed Justin DuPont (

One more clue, that nobody noticed: Red Eyes!

"Loons only have red eyes during the summer," says biologist Dave Evers. In winter, while they are in their grayish plumage, their eyes are not red but gray. Maybe their red eyes are part of attracting mates Or, perhaps loons have red eyes because any other color would be a disadvantage in deep water. You see, visible light really has many colors (like a rainbow) and red is one of the first colors of the rainbow to be filtered out by water. In other words, beyond a certain depth (like 15 feet) the red part of the light is no longer there. (Blue and indigo colored light travels deepest and that's why you see blue water reflected back to your eyes.) This suggests red eyes might help loons see under water, but then why don't the loons retain their red eyes in the winter when they need to dive in deep ocean water? Also, why do other diving waterbirds NOT have red eyes (exceptions are birds called grebes)?"

The Next Loon Migration Update will Be Posted on April 9, 1998.

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