Common Loon Common Loon
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By Jim Anderson (a.k.a. The Loon Ranger)

I first met the loon pair in the spring of 1999. They had moved to the pond years ago because too many humans were crowding their home at Indian Lakes. Paddling in my weathered canoe, I caught a glimpse of them--radiant in the sun, floating weightless in their reflection. I was on a mission to not only see but to photograph. As I cautiously approached, they instinctively became wary. I moved forward ever so slowly, with camera positioned. But down they went with a quiet splash.

I waited them out and was well rewarded. Up they popped, remarkably close to my canoe. They didn't seem to keep their distance, which was unusual behavior from these solitary birds, so I quickly (nervously) scanned the area for a nest. That's when Mr. Loon alerted me to be on my way. I took heed of his warning, but paddled the long way around the pond, hoping to circle back and catch the female on her nest. (Dream on!)

As I tentatively neared the area from another angle, I could visually make out one Loon. Through the camcorder lens, I focused again. There was my vision in black and white: the Lady Loon! Gripped with excitement, I kept my wits about me and focused the camcorder to film one of nature's most magnificent sights. Silently, I kept my distance and took care not to disturb as I filmed. Gradually, I began to circle this picturesque creature to vary my angles of filming.

I was wallowing in my achievement when out of nowhere I felt a strong wind lift the front of my canoe. I felt myself losing balance and trying to analyze the forces of nature. I had taken all necessary precautions to carefully approach Lady Loon and family; I was able to take National Geographic-type photos of them! And a mere gust of wind brings me back down to earth˝-literally!

One big push from the muddy pond floor brought me to the surface, leaving behind my knee-high boots. I peered over the side of the water-filled canoe to see my RCA camcorder, light on, taping away--capturing this inconceivable happening. My 35mm camera rested on the bottom. What in the world am I doing in the middle of this pond pretending to be Loon Ranger? Struggling, I managed to pull myself together and grab hold of the water-filled canoe. I sidestroked it to shore.

A week later, when I had finally warmed up and dried out, I realized there was still a glimmer of hope that the eggs hadn't hatched. So I packed my camera in a waterproof case and set off to see what I could see. I had to paddle the length of one pond, which had a beaver dam, to reach the main pond. Then I paddled with determination toward the Loon nest.

As I neared the loon island where they were nesting, I spied Mother Loon sitting on her egg. Cautiously I approached, but she hit the panic button. I had read, and now saw proof, why loons build their nests so close to the water. The name loon is thought to come from the old Scandinavian word meaning lame or clumsy. And due to the way their hind legs are placed so far back on their body, it is obvious that loons are not meant to walk much. Not gracefully, Mother Loon disappeared quickly as I got near, but not long enough to let her nest go unprotected. Using the telescopic lens, I could see only one egg. Knowing that loons lay two eggs, I scoped the pond, hoping the other egg hadn't fallen victim to raccoons or other predators. Then, in the distance I saw Papa Loon with something on his back. It was a fledgling Loon! I couldn't believe my eyes. I am very impressed with how these Loons are truly sharing the responsibilities of parenting. I captured this touching moment along with a quick shot of the lonely egg and went on my way to leave this family in peace.

I loyally visited the nest area, sometimes daily, in hopes of filming the hatching of the second egg. On May 23rd, I approached the nest as I had done many times, and to my surprise Mama Loon was stooping down as if to camouflage herself from me. Immediately I knew something was up. Then she abruptly left her nest. With camera positioned, I notice the egg is still intact. "Peep, peep, peep." Where are the peeps coming from? Is the other baby Loon nearby? Listening closer, I realize the chick in the egg is shedding its shell, ready to take on the pond!

I remained surprisingly calm, filming this special event. I watched as the tiny head emerged. I almost hoped it would chirp, "Uncle Jim?" After all, I should be a familiar face to the new family by now. But within moments I was on my way, giving Momma Loon and her new baby some bonding time.

I waited until Memorial Day weekend for another visit. Does my stubbornness sound like loonacy? I hoped to record a happy Loon family--safe and sound--frolicking in the pond. I returned to the pond via the beaver dam route and I searched high and low to no avail. In the back of my mind lurked the realities of the many predators loons face: hawks, raccoons, geese, seagulls. I began to grow a bit nervous.

Then I spotted the family. Little did they know how much they had changed my life. My new found appreciation for these birds and their risks reminds me of humans in many ways. We work hard to find a safe place to live and raise our families. In some parts of the world, some of us face the unfortunate threat of invasion. It takes both parents (actually a village) to raise our young. And sometimes you need a winter and summer home, especially if you live in the North. This wildlife family brightened my days until they left on migration south to their winter home in the late fall of 1999. I will be looking for them come spring 2000, and wondering about any loony tales they may have encountered in their travels.

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