Saturday, April 5, 2008
This is the best shot I was able to get of the loon that has been spending time on the pond off Superior Drive in southeast Northfield -- probably one of the largest expanses of open water in the area, other than the river. This was taken a little after 7 p.m. on Friday. The bird was difficult to capture with the camera, as it was fishing out in the center of the pond and then when it had a fish it kept changing its position, trying to realign the fish for easier swallowing. It was not difficult to recognize -- larger than almost anything other than a goose, dark and low in the water, and with that long flat back. Through the binoculars we could easily see the diagnostic spotted back. Here is a little more about loons from the Cornell Ornithological Lab.
Mary and I briefly saw the loon on our walk earlier on Friday, after it was pointed out to us by a neighbor; thereafter it made itself scarce. The man commented that they have had loons there before and that his daughter had written all about one they'd seen for school but was told by her science teacher that it could not have been a loon and must have been a coot or something else. Well, loons may not spend much time here, but here is evidence, if a little blurry, that they certainly do indeed pass through as they follow open water north in the spring.
I've only been privileged to see loons on one occasion previously, during a lake vacation north of Bemidji almost seven years ago -- the occasion also of seeing my first bald eagle. After I'd been living in Minnesota for a while, I was startled to realize that the loon is the bird featured by another name in one of the Swallows and Amazons books, a classic British children's series of quite substantial novels by Arthur Ransome. As the child of British parents, I'd grown up reading and loving these books about capable children having independent sailing and camping adventures in the English Lake District and a few other locations between the World Wars. (You'll learn quite a bit about sailing, the Lake District, charcoal burners, mining, signalling, carrier pigeons and more if you care to take a look. Definitely recommended for about ages 9 and up!) The book in question, in which the children try to thwart a threatening egg collector who is after the nest of a rare breeding loon in the far northern British Isles, is called Great Northern? -- the name by which the Common Loon is known in Europe being the Great Northern Diver, which suits it very well indeed.