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Sad to learn of loons in distress

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Greg Peck
June 24, 2014

Loons are among my favorite birds. I've enjoyed observing these large fish eaters and hearing their haunting cries on my fishing trips to northern Wisconsin and Canada for the past three decades.

My grandkids, ages 12 and 5, got introduced to loons last week when we spent vacation time at the appropriately named Loon Haven Resort in Mercer, dubbed the “Loon Capital of the World.” A large statue of a loon is a focal point of the village.

While fishing on Grand Portage Lake, we often saw two or even three adult loons together. These big birds sometimes surface surprisingly close to fishing boats. One night, after we'd all gone to bed, the loons started calling wildly.

“What is, that?” my wife, Cheryl, asked me.

“Those are the loons,” I replied.

I wasn't sure what that particular call meant, but today I found a website that explains it as a yodel, a distress call made exclusively by males during aggressive encounters or when predators approach nests.

Another website shares and explains the most familiar and peaceful of loon calls.

I was disappointed to read, after we returned home Friday, that swarms of biting flies are attacking loons in northern Wisconsin. The Associated Press quotes researchers as saying one species of flies that has a chemical attraction to loons is causing the birds to abandon their nests in record numbers.

So mosquitoes—the focus of my blog Monday—aren't the only problem up north this season. I don't know if black flies were bothering the loons on Grand Portage Lake. Mosquitoes were our constant and unwelcome companions at the resort, but they didn't bother us out on the water, and I don't recall flies being an issue on shore.

One day, however, we decided to drive up to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and take short hikes from the road to see the waterfalls on the Black River, which spills into Lake Superior. Mosquitoes were annoying there, too. It wasn't until we approached the big lake, however, that we noticed the flies. Cheryl and I had hiked to see these waterfalls during a UP vacation a decade ago, and I knew the grandkids would get a kick out of the suspension bridge across the river within view of Lake Superior. Cheryl and I and Cheryl's son Adam hiked through the woods to this spot, where a large parking lot invites visitors. Few people were around on this day, however. We soon learned why. Black flies were everywhere. They soon forced us to retreat back nearly a mile to our cars, where our grandkids awaited with their mom. The kids never did see or walk across the suspension bridge. The flies were too overwhelming.

I hope flies don't put a damper on the next generation of majestic loons. In my book, there's not a more impressive, haunting or peaceful call in all of the birding world.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.   



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