Wednesday, August 8, 2012

THE LOON

click photos to enlarge

My uncle, Gale Taylor, flew a twin engine Beechcraft Bonanza plane.  When I graduated from high school in 1964, he flew me from Pennsylvania to his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon for the entire summer.  Uncle Gale and his wife Ina, a Scottish girl he married during the war, were my favorite relatives even before this wonderful present.  Ina carried a very strong Scotch accent even into her sixties.  They were a neat couple for sure.  As the plane flew across the mountains of Wyoming, Uncle Gale said that we were going camping in the Olympic National Forest the following weekend.  I couldn't believe all this was happening to me, for me.  My uncle said I have never experienced the wilderness until I've listened to a loon.  He said that loons are the wildest of the wild and prefer to live their lives totally alone rather than share the wild places with humans.   He further stated that when I hear their mournful call that I will understand.  I have heard it numerous times then and over the following years and the loon emits a sorrowful cry reminiscent of loneliness even now after all those years.  Uncle Gale and Aunt Ina flew to Mexico in 1966 for a vacation.  They ran into a powerful storm over the northern coast of California and crashed the plane.  They crashed Christmas Eve and the plane couldn't be found.  Hikers finally found the plane one year later on Christmas eve in the mountains.  That's an amazing time frame.   It went down in heavy forests with tall trees.  The trees opened up to admit the plane and closed after the plane entered, hiding the crash site. Their bodies could not be found but jewelry, a wallet, her purse and luggage proved out their ultimate fate.  I was shaken when I heard of the terrible loss.  Uncle Gale was an outdoors-man and very knowledgeable about the wild places.  He was an important mentor to me over that summer with him.  He helped me appreciate wildlife and taught me that we need to coexist with it because as the wildlife goes - so go we.













It is a rare situation to be able to photograph a loon without making great efforts to do so.  Floating blinds are oftentimes employed and endless hours of waiting for the elusive bird to land within an acceptable range for photography.  I had great luck last month when a loon paddled right my my boat and I sat there and pushed the shutter.  Amazing luck!  Well, it happened again today. The most difficult bird in this country to photograph ignored my boat as I slowly approached them. Yes, them.  There were two together.  I killed the loud, noisy motor and employed the electric bow motor.  They were watching me but were being tolerant. 














Breeding adults retain the familiar black with white checkered backs - March through October.  Brown is the color for adult breeding birds September through March.  This is August and these guys don't fit into the mold.   That would mean that these are juvenile which are brown with light necks August through February.  If these were juveniles then, they were born here in Tennessee.












Common loons migrate to the north, north east and north west at the end of summer to coastal waters or to large inland lakes.  They nest there and some return south, it seems, in early spring.  The bird guides don't even show common loons in Tennessee but, I've seen them on all the lakes as long as I've lived here.  These juveniles had to be born here.  I wonder if there is any documentation about loons residing in the south.  Wonder if anyone cares.


I'm posting quite a few pictures here because loons are special to me and its rare to have the opportunity to photograph them.  If you become bored, simply move on down the photographs.


I can't imagine loons wintering here in the mud hole (Douglas Lake).  Of course, the boat traffic would be at a minimum and maybe there is enough tranquility for them to stay.  Its hard to say.



















I have seen the loon on Fort Loudon Lake in its black phase with the white checkers pattern on his back but, not for a couple years.  This is a strange occurrence, seeing these loons with brown color.  I'm not a bird expert by any stretch of the imagination.  I do know enough to keep my curiosity alive and active.  After all - the lack of curiosity equals a stagnant mind.














I would guess that the darker colored loon is undergoing a molting process.  Maybe both are.  That may be why they are reluctant to fly.  I sort of think that by the end of October these birds will be covered in black plumage with the white checkers on their backs.  Note the missing primary feathers on the trailing edge of the wings.































Closer examination of the enlargement tells me that these birds are indeed youths and that both are molting.  One of the birds displays more white on its throat than the other.  I believe that one is the youngest.   That explains why they are reluctant to fly.  Both individuals did dive out of sight several times but did not swim far from their points of dive.



When on the job, photographic opportunities simply appear without any real effort on my part.  I'm working and work takes precedence.  The job presents a wonderful opportunity to photograph wildlife due to the fact that I move around all over the lake.  I believe that when I get back to Calderwood and else ware I'm going to select a species of animal and actually search it out for photographic purposes.  I'd still utilize the opportunistic aspect of wildlife photography but, I'll place "the hunt or search" as a primary effort.   


They were becoming stressed out and trying to escape from my scrutiny.  Just a few more shots and I'll leave them in peace.  I hope you realize that you are looking at something that is rare to see and very precious.


The loons made my day.  The picture below is the puzzler of the week.  See if you can find the subject in the shot directly below.  It is more clear in the second photo but, don't cheat and look at it.  Just look at the photo below.  Hope you enjoyed the loons.  Next outing will be in the canoe at Calderwood.  That's definite!

I already have three people asking me about the OZ Tent in the last entry.  I did a review on that tent some time ago.  The link below will bring that entry up.
http://garysoutdoorwanderings2.blogspot.com/search?q=OZ+Tent