The first time I ever heard a real loon, I was totally mesmerized by the haunting call. Ok, I had heard one somewhere before but in an old movie or radio program. I didn't see one, only heard it in the background of the program.
I was 12 years old and on my first fishing trip in the Northern Wisconsin. We got to Long Lake in the late afternoon and got settled in a small lake cabin we had rented. It was nearly sunset before we got out on the lake for some fishing.
The lake was a beautiful pine green and the water was still and clear as glass. I rowed the old wooden boat slowly along as my Dad tossed a muskie plug in towards shore. It was hard to realize how peaceful a place could be.
The stories about fishing the northern lakes were told to me by the old timers who lived for tall fish stories. Their stories would often include the eerie call of a loon. What is a loon anyway? I asked. It's a helldiver was the response. Wow what a name! This bird must really be something. My next eager question was what do they look like? Like no bird you ever saw. They look like a big duck only with a sharp pointed beak. They will sit calmly on the water one second and disappear beneath the surface the next. A helldiver can dive under for a fish and come up a 100-foot from where he went down. When he comes up he will swallow his fish, throw back his head and let out the darndest war-hoop you ever heard. The description has stayed in my memory all these years.
I was completely in awe of the beauty around me on that small lake as Dad threw his muskie lure and I rowed slowly along. All at once the quiet was abruptly broken by a loud blood curdling call, "Kwow - Kwow!" Dad pointed and said, "look, over there, ahead of us." I cranked my head around like an owl to see a pair of loons sitting on the still water only 100 feet in front of the boat. Before I could say anything one of the sleek birds dove under the water and disappeared for what seemed like several minutes. I was wondering where he would come up when to my surprise he popped up only 10 feet from the boat. He just sat there and stared at me with his blood red eye. All I could say was "Wow, I never realized how beautiful they are." Dark green head and body with a white breast and snow white spots all over him and those red eyes seemed to look right through me. Then as fast as he appeared on the surface, he dove and was gone. He popped up next to his mate and let out with another wailing call. It almost sounded like crazy laughter and I wondered if the loon was laughing at the way we were going about catching fish.
I don't remember whether we caught very many fish on that trip but seeing and hearing the loons made the whole fishing trip worth while. Watching the loons on Wisconsin's northern lakes has been one of my favorite outdoor experiences over the years. For me, it's as exciting to hear their wonderful call as it is to see them.
In the winter, the plumage of the loon changes to a rather dull gray and when the ice covers the northern lakes, the loons migrate further south. These birds are large, powerful flyers but are quite awkward on land. Their big webbed feet are placed further back towards the tail forcing the loon to try and stand in a vertical position.
They spend most of their time out on the lake, sometimes swimming along so low in the water that only their heads appear above the surface.
A pair of loons will lay 2 or 3 large oval, olive colored eggs, which are lightly speckled with brown spots. The nest may be a pile of dead reeds, which are floating in the water near shore. Sometimes they may build a small nest on the top of a muskrat house.
There is no other bird or animal, which defines the wilderness of the great north better than the beautiful wild loons.
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