Opinion Column

BIRDWATCH: More on the Pacific Loon after one was spotted on Muskrat Lake late last year

Ken Hooles

By Ken Hooles, Daily Observer

Getty images 

The Pacific Loon may be the most abundant loon in North America. One was observed on Muskrat Lake late last year.

Getty images The Pacific Loon may be the most abundant loon in North America. One was observed on Muskrat Lake late last year.

Back in late November, I reported that a rare Pacific Loon was found on Muskrat Lake in Cobden. This was the first Pacific Loon ever seen in Renfrew County.

The Pacific Loon (Gavial Pacifica) resides in the waters of the far northern tundra islands. In the fall, it is easily found along the Pacific coast; hence its name. Up until recently, it was believed to be a sub-species of the Arctic Loon, which it resembles, but is now confirmed to be a species of its own.

This loon has a pale grey head with black sides and white stripes along its neck. The Pacific Loon has a white chest, black back with rows of large white spots and black sides and flanks. It has a slender bill. In the winter, it has dark grey under parts and a thick dark strap that recedes around the chin. The bird seen on Muskrat Lake was in this winter plumage.

It is also easily identified in flight in that it holds its neck and bill straight and when swimming, it holds its bill level.

In the summer, this bird spends its time feeding around the northern islands, and, of course, breeding and taking care of its young. In the fall, unlike other loons, it migrates in flocks to the Pacific coast. It likes to eat fish and occasionally, crustaceans and mollusks.

The Pacific Loon is monogamous and does not breed in colonies. It likes to build its nest on the banks of fresh water lakes and islands from the northern tundra to the Boreal forest. The nest is built on the ground with vegetation pulled up and around the nest.

This loon has only one brood per year. The eggs are incubated mainly by the female for 23 to 25 days. The young immediately leave the nest once hatched and are tended to by both parents. The young take their first flight 60 to 65 days later.

The Pacific Loon is not endangered and is considered very common in the north. In the fall, it migrates south all along the Pacific Coast as far south as parts of Mexico. It is rare to see one on the east coast and more so in the interior.

The discovery of a Pacific Loon in our area was both exciting and extremely rare.

On the local scene, trying to predict the bird patterns has been fairly tricky, especially with the changeable weather. What I can say is that our regular winter birds seem entrenched at our feeders. This includes Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, both Nuthatches, American Goldfinch, Mourning Doves and both our Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. In the city, you may also see Cardinals, Pigeons, House Finches and perhaps some leftover Dark-eyed Juncos. There are also a few over-wintering Robins still surviving in our area.

The inconsistent weather seems to have also affected the number of northern migrants still in our area. There are few American Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings and basically no sightings of Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll, Pine Grosbeaks, Northern Shrike and Northern Owls. The exceptions seem to be Evening Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings.

The good news is that we are approaching the courting and mating season in February and March for Barred Owls. Keep an eye out for these Owls as they will soon become more active.

This is an excellent time to update you on the rare birds that have been reported in January across our province. These include: Tundra Swan (Waterloo), Tufted Titmouse (Fitzroy), White-fronted Goose (Whitby), Black-headed Gull (Thorold), Yellow-headed Blackbird (Essex County), Eared Grebe (Toronto), Smith’s Longspur (Long Point), Ross’s Goose (Hamilton), King Eider (Fort Erie), Lark Sparrow (Toronto), Townsend’s Solitaire (Oshawa) and the best a Slaty-backed Gull (Niagara).

Please call me with your bird sightings at 613-735-4430, or email me at hooles@bell.net. For more information on upcoming nature events or other links to nature, just Google the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists’ website, or like us on Facebook.



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