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Annual gathering of the loons

October 11, 2011
By MIKE LYNCH, News Outdoors Writer
For the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing reports that loons have been gathering on Lake Clear, which they do every year prior to their winter migration to the Atlantic Coast.

On Monday evening, I took a short paddle out onto the lake to see if I could find the birds. To access the water, I parked near the bridge on state Route 186 over the Lake Clear Outlet. From there, I put my solo canoe into the water and paddled the short distance to the lake.

My one concern was that I might not be able to find the loons on the lake but that was quickly alleviated. Within moments of entering the lake, I saw several flashes of white on the water from the underbelly of the birds. The loons were about a half-mile ahead of me on the lake.

In order to not disturb them and be able to get a good angle for photographs, I paddled between the loons and the shoreline to my left. My plan was to stop paddling when I got within 100 yards and drift with the wind in their general direction.

As it turned out, this plan worked out better than I anticipated because it set the loons in the foreground of a scenic backdrop. There were several mountains, including Whiteface, and a nearly full moon on the horizon behind the birds. This was in addition to the ring of colorful deciduous trees surrounding the lake.

When I got fairly close to the birds, I counted 15 loons in the largest group and 21 overall in the general vicinity. There were two smaller groups of loons floating amongst themselves.

This type of loon behavior is quite different from the way they act during the warmer summer months when they are found alone or in pairs on ponds, lakes and other waterways.

That behavior starts to change when the air temperature starts to cool off and the day shortens because the loons are staging for migration. It is not uncommon to see them in groups of 10, 20 or more.

According to a Wildlife Conservation Society booklet by loon research Nina Schoch, non-breeding loons start to gather in mid-August and begin to migrate as early as the end of that month or early September.

“They are usually observed flying overhead in small groups migrating to the coast for the winter,” Schoch wrote. “Grouping together enables loons to decrease search time and improve foraging efficiency on unfamiliar waterbodies encountered during migration.”

Adult loons that have raised young usually migrate in September and October while loon chicks usually leave even later, taking off in the months of October and November, according to Schoch.

For the younger birds, the migration is a trip that they won’t repeat for several years.

“They will spend the next three of four years riding the coastal waves before returning to the area of their native lakes in breeding plumage,” she wrote.

Article Photos

Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
These loons were part of a group of 21 that were seen Monday, Oct. 10 on Lake Clear. In the background is Whiteface Mountain under a nearly full moon.



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