Jeff Green | Nov 30, 2006
Back toHomeNature Reflections - November 23, 2006
by Jean Griffin
I stopped on November 17 to look for ducks on Silver Lake - no ducks! But there were three Common Loons. Two of these were swimming together on the far side of the lake, but the third was quite close to shore all by itself. Was this a young bird from last summer’s nesting? I could not tell whether it was juvenile plumage or the winter plumage of an adult bird.
If it was a juvenile what did the future hold for it? It would have already survived since leaving the nest at less than a day old. It would have instinctively known how to swim and had learned to dive without popping back up to the surface like a ping-pong ball because of its buoyancy (which happens for the first couple of days). Fed and cared for by the adults, sometimes given rides on the backs of the parents, it had gradually learned to capture fish, and by eight weeks old was remarkably independent. If it had had a sibling, had that one been a victim of predation by a pike or snapping turtle, or even caught by a hawk or an eagle?
A juvenile attains its flight feathers at about eleven weeks and may leave its home lake and head south before its parents, or perhaps stick around and establish its own territory and feeding area. Now close to winter and the coming freeze-up, this loon, young or adult, must leave before ice closes in upon it as it needs a large area of open water from which it can rise by pattering along the surface, half running and half flying, while beating the water with its wings, until it can get airborne. Once in the air the flight is strong, rapid and direct and can be maintained for considerable distance.
Ahead of it will be a journey, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of a small group of other loons, which will take it to its winter residence. It may stop at a lake along the way and join a loon convention where a large number of loons have gathered to rest and refuel, before continuing on, probably to the coast along the eastern states. There it will feed, sleep, and when once again winter retreats northward, will be energized to make the return journey, perhaps back to Silver Lake.