Saturday, June 30, 2012

Loons calling

We hoped the loons would call while we were at the cabin. Some of our family has never heard them in real life. Their rising calls are so unearthly and haunting they make me feel like someone is calling and approaching from some nearby, unseen dimension.

For several days last week, a pair with two babies, dove and fished not far off the end of the dock.

We were fascinated by their parenting and could have watched for hours. Maybe we did. There were times when the babies rode the back of a parent as it swam. Perhaps they were tired? Or maybe just because. Most of the time one parent stayed on the surface to guard while the other one hunted. Diving beneath the surface, he would disappear for minutes, then suddenly pop up twenty yards away trailing weeds and a snail in his beak. Swimming toward the babies he would shake off the weeds, expertly turn the snail without losing it, crack it slightly and present it soft side first. Other times they returned with small fish that were greedily devoured. Hour after hour they did this. The babies would often put their heads under the water to look for their mom and dad as if to see what the heck the hold-up was and whether it was going to be snails or minnows this time.

Eagles, cormorants, herons – anything that could possibly be a predator flying past caused these beautiful red-eyed birds to give out warning calls. They were so close to the dock we could feel their mournful wails echo off the lake. When danger was perceived, one parent would quickly swim away, calling, as if he was a decoy. The other would swim close to the babies who stayed usually remained on the surface unless the risk escalated, then they dove, like when two eagles circled overhead.

One afternoon Shaun, our son-in-law, took the boys out in the canoe and unintentionally headed toward the loon family. The mother quickly rounded up the children and the father charged the canoe calling out warnings. It was so brave and so quixotic, who wouldn’t admire his willingness to fend off a great monster to save his children?  Oh right. Am I getting too anthropomorphic? No. Certainly not.
This was the family of loons about fifty feet away. Not a good pic, but you get the idea.
That’s our youngest granddaughter, Ava Lou watching with us. The water is about 3 feet deep there. And no, she didn’t have her life jacket on, but like good loon parents, we were keeping a sharp eye. You can see Denis poised to grab her. She had no fear.

 Here's a link from the Ornitology Dept at Cornell that has a nice description and sound of the Common Loon.

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