This loon flew about 2,500 miles from its summer breeding grounds in Alaska or northwest Canada to get here. Although it’s a diving bird expertly adapted for catching fish underwater, it’s no slouch in the air. It has to paddle on the water surface for quite a distance to get airborne, but once up, it can fly at 75 mph. We see it here in its winter plumage, heavy on grey: grey beak, grey neck, grey-brown back. When breeding, they wear spectacular costumes in black and white with iridescent hoods. They have powerful legs set far back on their bodies for excellent propulsion underwater. On land they’re awkward and slow. Up in their summer lands they build their nests at the water’s edge. Males and females share the building, sitting, and feeding chores, and form a pair year after year unless disrupted, but in the winter they go their separate ways. Human influences in the form of acid rain, mercury pollution, and development threaten their breeding habitat, and global warming has shifted some of their breeding sites further northward where the waters remain cold and cold-water fish still thrive. This individual, at the time I saw it, floated quietly near the eastern shore of the park, and occasionally closed its eyes as if sleepy. It is very probably a Common Loon. Both the Red-throated Loon and the Pacific Loon in winter plumage look similar. I’m using size, the shape of the white area on the neck, and the dull pattern on the back as identifiers.
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