Hitchin a Ride...

Diane Blastorah

Powassan, Canada

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Artist's Description

A Common Loon with the chick hitching a ride on her back.

Location: Wasi Lake, Chisholm, Ontario

Nikon D60
Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm

Common Loon
Gavia immer

For anyone who spends time during summer in Canada’s northern lake country, the solitary call of the common loon is as much a part of the experience as fresh air.

Depending on the time of day, the loon’s call ranges from a sound somewhere between a yodel and a laugh, to a plaintive wailing that can be heard for long distances across the water. The expressions “looney”, or “crazy as a loon” are often related to the behaviour of this large water bird.

About two times larger than a mallard duck, a mature common loon sports a formal black and white appearance that is as highly recognized as its call. The loon’s head and pointed bill are black and offset by startling red eyes. The neck features a collar of short white vertical stripes. The long body is checkered black and white on top and the underside is a silvery white.

Rarely seen anywhere but on more temperate coastal areas during winter, the loon becomes hardly recognizable with a dull grey body, a dingy white throat and brownish eyes during this season.

Because the loon’s body is long and heavy with legs placed well to the rear, it is extremely clumsy and slow on land. Legends of First Nations people refer to the loon as the bird with a broken back. Other than to construct a nest and incubate eggs, the loon lives its entire life afloat or in the air.

But for what they lack in mobility on land, loons make up on water as powerful swimmers and highly skilled divers. Loons are known to dive to depths of 15 metres or more in search of a meal.

Though swift fliers once in the air, loons require a long splashing run to get their heavy bodies airborne. They are equally awkward at landings, slapping down at high speed and plowing water in front to stop themselves.

It’s probably for this reason that alarmed loons rarely take to the air. Instead they make themselves almost invisible by submerging their bodies until just their heads and bills are showing. When threatened further they will dive quickly and surface a safe distance away, continuing this behaviour until they have frustrated the pursuer.

Courting behaviours are often racous events that involve much splashing and frenzied running across the water, but are sometimes alternated with a complete change of pace in the form of slow ballet-like displays. Nests are usually started in June and are generally constructed with pieces of floating vegetation and placed on a sheltered point directly on the water’s edge so the nesting loon can quickly reach the water when threatened.

Masters at deception, loons are rarely seen near their nests. To protect the nest they desert it well before a predator arrives and distract the intruder by appearing far out on the water.

Usually, two dark greenish or brownish eggs camouflaged with darker spots are laid and both birds take shifts on the nest, incubating for about 30 days. When hatched, young loons are thickly covered in dark brown down and can swim immediately, though they are frequently seen riding on their parent’s backs during their first few weeks.

Information : www.ducks.ca

Artwork Comments

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