We were halfway around the lake when I heard it--the long mournful three-tone whistle-cry that grew in volume. I stopped. What is that? What is that? I know that sound. But it was utterly out of context, and I had to think to place it.
The bird called again. I stopped Doug and made him take out his earbuds. (He was listening to American Music Club on his iPod.)
Doug, I hear a loon!
Our lake is a small, urban lake. It is popular with mallards and wood ducks, herons and geese, and the occasional bald eagle. Not loons. Loons are shy and elusive northern waterbirds that we sometimes are lucky enough to hear when we're up north along Lake Superior. They are not birds you commonly see, or hear, in the middle of a St. Paul neighborhood.
Ah. Except for spring migration.
Of course, Doug thought I was delusional. But then, there it was again--aaaa oooooo ooooooooooo.
And then I saw them, out in the middle of the lake: by golly, a flock of loons.
Saturday morning was gray and lightly foggy. The loons, we learned, had come in two days before, on their way up north as part of spring migration. Along with them were some mergansers and a few eared grebes--funny, herky-jerky birds with patches of orange on their oddly round heads. They were all bobbing on our Como Lake, the loons' sharp profiles and white chests unmistakable amidst the mallards and geese.
Erik came to town in mid-afternoon on a whirlwind weekend visit from California. In late afternoon, we went down to the lake again. The loons were calling. By now, there were dozens and dozens of people gathered along the shore, watching.
People knelt in the cattails, aiming long lenses at the water. People stopped at the edge of the path, binoculars pressed to their eyes. Others clustered in small groups and simply stared. I watched one woman lift her cell phone and snap a shot.
Cars stopped in the middle of the road so that the drivers could gawk. One guy behind the wheel of a green minivan peered through binoculars he held with one hand while he chatted on a cell phone he held in the other. I'm watching it right now! It's on the east side of the lake! I heard him say.
Loons live their entire lives on the water. They never come to shore; they cannot walk on land. They need lakes of a certain size in order to take off; they run-skim across the water a good distance before taking flight, and they have been known to get stuck on small lakes that don't have enough room for their taxiing.
They stay mostly in the middle of the lake; they don't hang around in the weeds the way the mallards do. So with only a pocket-sized digital point-and-shoot, my pictures aren't very good. But they give you an idea of the wonderful guests in our neighborhood this weekend.
Sunday turned warm and summery. In early evening, in 70 degree sunshine, we walked down to the lake again. But the water was empty. The north had called, and the loons and the grebes had moved on.
A quick note: Do click on the link at the very top of this post. Then you, too, will hear the mournful call of the loon. And click on pictures to make them larger.
Drink With Me
1 hour ago