The Love of Loons
In the 90's, I became very involved with working to protect Androscoggin Lake, which had a problem with pollution. From my wheel, in the winter with the leaves off the trees, I can catch glimpses of the lake though our pine grove & my family has spent countless hours out on Androscoggin. This work advocating for one of my favorite places led to an encounter with a loon that changed me forever.
We were very fortunate to have the help of the Maine DEP and Biodiversity Research Institute doing a study of mercury and dioxin in the loons on Androscoggin Lake. Previously, it had been very difficult to study loons, because they can dive and easily escape capture, but Dave Evers, the creative scientist from BRI, had invented a way to capture and test loons.
I was invited to go out with them in the middle of the night. Dave played distress calls made to sound like a chick and the loon would swim right towards his big net. He quickly flipped the loon into the small boat we were in- it was huge, as big as a swan, with a long neck and incredibly sharp beak! We went to shore, where Dave took feather and blood tests, then weighed the bird. When it was time to let him go, Barry Mower from the DEP, said: “Watch this. It's the best part.” I expected in that moment the loon would be very frightened and rush off. Instead, he stayed still in the shallow water, turned his head and looked us right in the eye, as if to say: “Who are you and what did you just do?” Then he turned and swam calmly away. I will never forget the sight of his red eye in the dark. I knew instantly that loon was intelligent and aware.
I began to try to understand loons for who they really are. They fish cooperatively, forming a circle and diving together like dolphins and whales. They are smart and protective parents, carrying chicks on their backs to keep them safe and warm. Each year they come back to the same lake and with the same partner. They return every year the day after the ice goes out. How do they know? They have at least four different calls and communicate for miles across lakes. What are they saying?
My love of loons changed from simply enjoying the the lovely patterns and shapes. I am humbled, grateful, and heartened by the simple truth that we share our world with these beautiful and aware beings.
Every year we wait, and they come back! We say to each other: “Are the loons back? Have you heard a loon?” The first sound of the loons' calls stirs our souls, awakens us from winter, and reminds us that we must share our world.
Many thanks to all the loon lovers who have contacted us. We are happily and busily making more loon whistles!
Here are some of my favorite organizations that are doing great work to protect loons and their habitat:
Biodiversity Research Institute: http://www.briloon.org
Maine Audubon: https://www.maineaudubon.org
Maine DEP: https://www.maine.gov/dep/
Natural Resources Council of Maine: https://www.nrcm.org