We heard them again this morning. With a stuffy head and scratchy throat, I buried myself into the pillow and blankets and closed my eyes. Becca followed suit, a heavy sigh flowing out as the sound wafted in once again.
As we began to stir once more, Harper the dog added to the chorus by eagerly licking his paws. The slurping sound masked the loon tunes outside and we knew it was time to rise. On the chest of drawers closest to our bed, an embroided loon watched as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. On the couch downstairs, a loon print pillow sat motionless as Harper wandered past. A sign near the kitchen sink bids welcome to those entering its space with an adult loon resting in the water on the front. As I washed my hands in the bathroom, a resin model of a loon with its chick sat in a nest, overlooking my cleaning ritual.
The camp at Northwood Lake is filled with so many tributes to common loons (Gavia immer) and it’s easy to see why. Loons have several things going for them. One is that they are an example of a charismatic animal whose presence excites birders and wildlife fans of all ages with their checkered black and white plumage, haunting cries, and fondness for wilderness. Secondly, they are fascinating to watch whether they are males calling with their yodeling cries or individuals “peering” into the water in search of fish before diving down in pursuit. It’s little wonder that these birds are called “divers” in the U.K. and Europe.
Last Wednesday, a pair arrived at Northwood Lake on one of those sunny, yet frigid days that grace New England frequently in the spring. I read a Facebook post this afternoon that jokingly asserted that there are thirteen seasons in New England and that we are currently at “cold mud” which falls in between “third winter” and “actual spring”. Third winter struck the day before bringing a dusting of snow and ice to Northwood, reminding me that Mark Twain’s observations on the weather still held fast. The loon pair seemed nonplussed about the weather and have been seen cruising the lake together, preening, diving, and sleeping. In a few weeks, as the weather creeps towards “actual spring”, they will seek out a secluded cove or weedy area to begin nest building and egg laying.
In recent years, I’ve been trying to figure out just how birds build their nests so well. If you’ve ever seen a robin’s nest, you’ll no doubt have admired the construction of the cup-shaped dwelling built solely for the purpose of keeping eggs and chicks safe while they develop and grow.
Loons build their nests on the water’s edge and while they can move very well through the water, on land, they are just shy of helpless. Their legs are so far back on their bodies that they can only push and shuffle on their bellies while on land. The only times you’ll ever see them there is during incubation at the nest or if the bird is ill or injured. In the winter months, it isn’t uncommon to walk on a beach after a storm and find loons stuck there due to injury or exhaustion.
Fortunately, seeing this pair here means that they have survived another trying winter on the coast and have returned to fish in our waters and raise their young. Other water birds have begun their coupling as well. Lesser scaup (Aythya affinis), buffleheads (Bucephala albeola), and common mergansers (Mergus merganser) have all been puttering past the camp with their mates, diving amid the choppy waves and sticking closely to each other, anticipating when the right winds will arrive to pick them up and whisk them north to their breeding grounds.
Maybe they will bring some “actual spring” on their wings as they go with those winds. Here’s hoping…