Tag Archive | common loon

Saturday’s Shots; a look through the archives

Posted by Matthew Sim

I haven’t been able to get out to much birding or photography lately and while this is generally quite disappointing for me, it does hold one positive factor; a chance to look through my archives of bird photos. As I went through my archives this past week, I noticed two photos of loons I had taken at Kikomun Creek Provincial Park this August that had somehow escaped my notice. Here they are, hope you enjoy.

adult common loon


Something old, something new

Posted by Matthew Sim

For the third straight year, on a camping trip to southeastern British Columbia, I watched a family of Common Loons as they went about their lives despite living on a very busy lake and getting quite a bit of disturbance from vacationing families. As we watched the parents (something old as I have seen them before) tending to their young (something new) I couldn’t quite help but be amazed at how they can continue call the lake home despite the popularity of the lake among campers.

This year, there were two young loons. You may remember from last year’s post that there was only one chick last year (last year’s post can be seen here). It was quite remarkable to watch how the adult loons worked together this year with two chicks instead of one; sometimes each parent would take care of one of the chicks while at other times, one parent would give the other a break and watch over both chicks for a while before the parents eventually switched.

Though loons can be very sensitive to disturbance, these loons seem to have adapted well to human presence. Also, there is no motorized boat traffic on their lake, so maybe they are fine with kayakers, canoes and swimmers.

Off to feed its young

Common Loons nest on small islands, muskrat lodges and sometimes on the shores of their lake if these shores are forested and undisturbed. They lay one or two (sometimes three) eggs and take turns incubating these eggs for 28-30 days before the black, downy chicks are hatched.  These chicks can swim  immediately and they leave the nest with their parents within 24 hours of hatching. Though they can swim, for the first 2 weeks they will often ride on their parents backs perhaps to stay warm and avoid predators. Within six to eight weeks the young will be the size of the adults but until about eight weeks, they will continue to be fed by their parents. I noticed that of the 2 chicks, one seemed to be very independent already while the other one stayed close to at least one adult. Perhaps they had hatched several days apart?

The more dependent of the two chicks being fed; or maybe it just enjoyed free food?!

By three months, mountain lakes such as this one start to get colder and eventually the loons will have to leave; by three months the young can fly. During the 4 days that I was there,  the young loons attempted flying a few times, though judging by all the splashing and flopping around, they still need some more practice.

Learning to fly

I found it quite interesting to observe the loons. Often, when I would watch them from a distance, patience would pay off and they would eventually swim quite close to me, within a few feet. The young ones seemed to be especially curious and would often linger around my raft. I had a great time watching the loons and spent many hours with them up close, learning different aspects of their lives. I got plenty of photos and as these seem to tell a story better than words I will leave it at that.

Loon Survey, Part Three

It’s high time I updated the Loon Survey I did for Bird Studies Canada this past summer. You can read about the survey, and see pictures of the eggs, fledglings, and adult loons, on my previous posts: Loon Survey, Part One, and Loon Survey, Part Two.

In late August I returned to Leisure Lake, near Bragg Creek, to check on the Common Loon family.  The purpose of the third visit, late in the season, is to see if the young loons have survived.  Like all birds, loons have a high rate of mortality among fledglings.

I was happy to find that the two young, still in their brown plumage, were doing well.  They were starting to look like adults. (Click on any picture to enlarge it.)

  Juvenile Common Loon, about two months old.

The two juveniles with an adult.

However, despite making a long slow circuit of the entire lake, I only saw one of the parent loons.  I thought that perhaps one of the adults was hiding on shore somewhere, but I’ve been told that loons are so ungainly on land that they only go ashore to incubate their eggs.  It’s possible that it was in the reeds somewhere and I missed it, but that seems unlikely.  Perhaps one of the adults departed for the wintering grounds earlier than the other adult and the young.  I don’t know if they normally do that or if they all leave together.  The other possibility is that the missing adult succumbed to disease or a predator.  It will be interesting to see what happens there next spring.

If you want to participate in the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, there are plenty of unmonitored lakes with loons on them.  Contact Bird Studies Canada for more information.  Here is a link to the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey page.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Loon Survey, Part Two

Last month I reported on my trip to Leisure Lake, southwest of Calgary, to monitor the breeding Common Loons there (see the blog post, Loon Survey, Part One).  On June 14 there was a breeding pair of loons, with two eggs in the nest.  I returned to the lake on July 10 to see if the young loons had fledged.

Leisure Lake, in the Bragg Creek/Priddis area, southwest of Calgary.

I soon saw the loons, the two young birds following their parents around the lake.  The newly fledged loons were already quite large, and seemed to be doing well.

Two young loons following their parents.

One of the young loons in its brownish plumage.

The next step in the loon survey was to return to check on the loons in August, to see if the young have survived their first few weeks of life.  I’ll report on that in Part 3.

 Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Beautiful Loons

On a recent camping trip to Kikomun Creek Provincial park in south-eastern British Columbia (near Fernie), I spent hours out on the main lake at the campsite; Surveyor’s Lake, observing and photographing Common Loons. Home to a breeding pair of loons, Surveyor’s lake is a busy lake; hundreds of people crisscross the lake each day in canoes, rafts, paddleboats and kayaks. All these people, however, do not deter the loons and once again, they have nested in the area and have one big young one.

Due to all the traffic on this lake, the loons are not shy and will sometimes even approach people. At one point, I was sitting in my raft photographing these beautiful birds when one of the adults and the young one started to swim towards me. They came closer and closer until I could have touched the young loon with my paddle!

The young loon seemed to be doing an impression of an eel; he would get down low in the water and start swimming about. This last photo shows how close the young loon came; this was taken with my 500mm lens and is uncropped; I had to sit very still, otherwise a sudden motion would have scared the youngster away!

The adult loons were very protective of their young one; when an immature Bald Eagle flew low over the lake, the adult loons had already seen it, were loudly giving their alarm call and both parents were protectively circling around the young loon.

Occasionally, the loons were too fast for me and my camera and would dive right as I would take a photograph.

While I watched this loon family, they consumed a lot of food and I later found out that one pair of loons with two chicks will eat more than 1000 kg of small coarse fish over a breeding season. That is a lot of fish! Hopefully the lake is well stocked!

I immensely enjoyed watching this family; it was amazing to watch their lives as they try to raise the next generation of loons. I also saw hope; despite this species sensitivity to human disturbance, these loons can survive among humans and this adaptability could help keep these magnificent birds off the threatened species list.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Must-see Birds: August

August means migration for many birds here in Calgary while others are having a second brood of young ones or are concentrating on raising their first brood. This month’s birds are:

1. Common Loon

Best known for its lonely echoing calls that are considered by most people to be heard in unspoiled wilderness. The Common Loon has a seemingly star-studded back, a white necklace and a bright red eye that stands out in the right light. The Common Loon can stay underwater for long periods, up to a minute while feeding and longer if the bird is escaping from danger. Common Loons inhabit clear, open lakes where there are few people and plenty of fish. They can be seen in the mountains, foothills, parkland and boreal forest but are few in the grasslands.

2. Western Meadowlark

A stocky bird with a grayish brown back and a yellow breast with a black V on the bib, the male Western Meadowlark delivers a rich melodious song from posts in the grasslands. The Meadowlark breeds where there is a thick growth of weeds and grasses, laying 3-7 white eggs. The male bird is beautiful and defends his territory with various displays. Look for the Meadowlark in grasslands around Calgary.

File:Western Meadowlark.jpg

Image courtesy Wikipedia

 3. Yellow-headed Blackbird

Our third bird is the loud and noisy Yellow-headed Blackbird. The male is easily recognized by his bright yellow head and neck, black eye patch and white wing patch. the female is brown and mottled with a faint yellow head. The Yellow-headed Blackbird nests in the same marshes as Red-winged Blackbird and will displace the smaller Red-winged Blackbird from the prime nesting spots. The yellow-headed Blackbird is easy to see at Frank lake.


4. Black-crowned Night-Heron

A small stocky heron that at times appears to have no neck, the Black-crowned Night-Heron has a greenish black crown and long slender white head plumes. Most active at night, the Black-crowned Night-Heron was not observed in Alberta until 1958; it is now a local breeder. these herons colonize large bodies of water with dense emergent vegetation; I have seen them at Frank lake every time I have gone there during the spring and summer.

5.  Peregrine Falcon

Our final bird this month is the speedy Peregrine falcon.One of the swiftest birds in the world when diving at prey, it can attain speeds of over 300km/h when diving. The adults are blue-grey above with barred underparts and a dark head with thick sideburns. One of the most widespread birds in the world, the name peregrine means ‘wanderer’ and the Peregrine falcon has one of the longest migrations of any North American bird. Look for this fast falcon nesting on the U of C campus and at shorebird concentration spots like Weed lake, where a Peregrine will hunt the migrating shorebirds.

File:Falco peregrinus nest USFWS.jpg

Image courtesy Wikipedia

These are our 5 birds for August, see which ones you can find! We will have our final must-see birds post on September 1.

Posted by Matthew Sim