My Weekly Post

Loons Alive

August 5, 2011

Tags: loons, baby loons, northern lakes, lead sinkers

When I was first living here, thirty or so years ago, loons were a treasured sight. They were slowly coming back from near extinction and most of us would pull over to the side of the road if we spotted one on a lake as we were driving by. They are stunning, large birds, distinctive for their vivid black and white feathers, the natty black and white ring around their necks and beady red eyes. If you get close to them in a canoe or kayak, you can see all of this in stunning detail. Their return has been closely watched by certain loon lovers on lakes everywhere. Here at the farm, I am frequently treated to the yodel-like chuckle of the loons flying overhead. Since I am in a direct line between Dublin Lake and Silver Lake, both favored by loons, I have always assumed they are flying between these two lakes. Most often, I hear them overhead in the early morning and in the evening, flying home.

Recently, I’ve been reading quite a lot in the papers about the loons, whose numbers are apparently receding after such a successful return, so successful that they were becoming almost common. I was surprised and upset to learn of this, which made me realize I haven’t been hearing my loons pass overhead as much this summer. I felt like I’d been witness to a span of evolution. The loons return; the loons decline. The culprit has been identified as lead sinkers used by fishermen. A movement has begun to ban the use of lead in fishing tackle. I actually had thought they were banned years ago.

Last week, I went out in a canoe with a friend who told me that they had been watching a nesting loon across the lake. Whenever there are nesting loons on the lake, signs are posted and protections are put in place to guard the nest. It’s especially dangerous to have loud motorboats and water skiers passing near the nest. She likes quiet and her loyal mate can be found on guard nearby, whistling and cautioning. We paddled across the lake to see how close we could get. A canoe or kayak provides enough stealth so that it’s possible to drift near to the nest to get a peak. She was on the far side of a small island covered with trees and blueberry bushes, a popular place for people to go to pick. When we got around to the other side, we saw the signs, warning that a nesting loon was near. We backpaddled and then drifted slowly near the shore. Of a sudden, the mother came into sight, right in front of me. Because they cannot walk on land, their nests are typically right at the edge of the water, which was the case here. I could almost touch her. She was curled on the nest, her head curled under her wing, still as a stone. I almost gasped, the sight was so rare, so beautiful. I felt my heart lift. Loons alive! It was intimate proof of their return.

We slowly drifted past and she never looked up or stirred. About thirty yards distant, her mate let out a few nickers of alarm but otherwise let us pass. Coming off the lee of the island, we paddled around the shallows near the shore for a while. In time, we came to a cottage where another friend was picking blueberries with her grandsons. We stopped to talk, holding ourselves steady with our paddles. “We saw the loon!” I said. No need to identify which loon. “Yes,” she said, “but we’re very worried about that loon. She’s been sitting on those eggs for too long. We think that there’s something wrong. Those chicks should have hatched two weeks ago.” My heart sank. These things happen in nature, it wasn’t necessarily linked to the depressing news about the lead sinkers and the corresponding decline in the loon population. But, still, I felt the jarring sense of having had my spirits lift and fall in a short span of time.

A few days later, my friend e-mailed me a blurry image of mother and two chicks. “I guess Barbara was too pessimistic about the state of the loon eggs! These babies were first spotted on the lake two days ago,” she wrote. That would have been just a day after we passed by the tired mother. In the photo, the proud mother swam ahead of her two tiny little ones, cautious new life.



Comments

  1. August 27, 2011 6:58 PM EDT
    Edie, are you in the hurricane's path. Hope you stay safe.
    - Margie Orr
  2. August 27, 2011 7:36 PM EDT
    Yes, we are but it's supposed to be a tropical storm by the time it reaches us. Let's hope. Right now, it's pouring. My phone has already gone out but I have my cell phone. I've put everything that moves into the barn and closed the shutters. I've got all the many things I used during the ice storm so I'm well prepared. Not much more I can do. I really appreciate your concern, Margie!! I think there are a lot of people in jeopardy right now. Prayers, a good option.
    - Edie Clark
  3. September 5, 2011 8:32 PM EDT
    Glad you've prepared well for Irene, which has now come and gone. The TV news shows most of the severe damage in Vermont. Prayers of concern have been offered.

    I'm so glad you had a chance to see the nesting Loons. What a rare treat. Anytime we can see the best of Mother Nature--especially those endangered, we can feel blessed. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    - Ron
  4. November 14, 2011 12:09 PM EST
    Edie, I enjoyed reading your post about the loons. It brought back memories of photographing loons at Willard Pond. Take a look at http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevemuskie/6344094873/in/photostream to see Sandy paddling her kayak in the background of a loon with its chick.
    - Steve
  5. September 21, 2014 2:46 PM EDT
    Are audio versions of your books available?
    - a b
  6. September 21, 2014 3:16 PM EDT
    Yes, I have one CD where I read a selection of the Mary's Farm essays out loud. It's called Night Sky, costs $15 and is available for purchase on this website.
    Thanks for asking!
    Edie
    - Edie Clark
  7. September 23, 2014 12:40 AM EDT
    I wish you would read your latest book so visually impaired and non-readers may enjoy
    - a b

Selected Works

Articles
In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
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A complete listing of articles published since 1978
Fiction
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief