The sun rose near its southernmost range this morning, the first dawn after Winter Solstice, and made a show over the North Basin that could have been mistaken for a sunset, if a person didn’t know the locale and its compass points. The steam from the foundry on the Berkeley shore rose straight into the air, and the water surface looked like liquid mercury. I walked north along the basin, noting that the Scaup population seemed to have fallen by half or more, most of them clustered near the opposite shore. A slow and careful scan of the blades and lumps of the fenced area set aside for Burrowing Owls on the northeast corner yielded disappointment, again, as it has this entire fall season, so far. But by way of consolation, along the northern edge of the park I was rewarded not only with one Loon, which is something to crow about, but with two Loons, and of different species.
I spotted the first one seconds after it came up from a dive with some morsel in its beak. It then sat quietly on the surface for some time, allowing my shutter to click away ad lib. It had a straight gray spear-like bill, a lump on its forehead, red eyes, and a white front blending softly into a dark back of the head and neck. Tiny grey spots in an irregular pattern relieved the dark brown of its back. Like all loons, it sat low in the water. Checking it out online, I’m left with no doubt that this is a Common Loon. However, judging by slight variations in the throat coloration, it was a different individual than the bird I’d seen a few weeks earlier, on Thanksgiving Day. The bird worked its way gradually eastward.
A set of sparrows and a Towhee then drew my attention back to the land, where the low-slanting golden light showed these common park denizens off in their best feather. I’m going to reserve these photos for another day. As I walked further west, I noted another rather large diving bird working the water close to shore. I thought perhaps the first Loon had reversed course and come west again. But a closer look revealed not only a different individual, but a different flavor of Loon. This one was a bit smaller, its beak had a slight upturn, it had a greater white area on its throat, and, most striking, its back showed a regular checkerwork pattern of white feathers on a dark background. Back home, checking the online resources, I was baffled at first, but then hit on an exact match. This looks like a Red-throated Loon, a non-breeding adult in winter plumage. In August of last year, I had the great good luck to see and to film a Red-throated Loon adult in its summer plumage, showing the broad red stroke of paint on its throat from which stems its common name. This bird today may wear such gaudy feathers next summer.