Icebound loon takes hint, heads south

Published: January 8, 2007 | 5257th good news item since 2003

Lake Rescue lived up to its name Sunday afternoon when two residents broke a channel through the softened ice on the lake to rescue a loon marooned in a small pool of open water.

Frank Wingate and Wayne Fisher went out in a small boat to break the channel, hoping that the loon would follow them out to open water and depart for its wintering grounds.

They were successful, but only after they left the loon to its privacy, according to Wingate.

Wingate and Fisher went out at about 1 p.m. to the shaded cove near Fisher’s home and they chopped the punky ice and forced their metal boat through the three-quarter inch ice. The bird, which was watching their approach, would keep as far away from them as possible in its small swimming pool, or dive briefly under the water.

Wingate and Fisher kept their distance from the loon, while exhorting it to escape to its freedom.

“Come on, bird,” they could be heard urging from shore.

The loon would occasionally let out one of its wails and rise up out of the water, and flap its wings.

After about an hour of gentle long-distance coaxing, the men decided they were cold and the bird might want its privacy.

“The loon is happy where he is,” Wingate said. “This guy isn’t going anywhere.”

But Wingate was happily proved wrong about an hour later.

“The loon has gone — it’s very exciting and we’re very happy,” Wingate reported shortly after 4 p.m., after he and Fisher had gone home to watch playoff football.

Wingate said the bird got caught in the cove between Carpenter’s Point and Monroe Point on Dec. 30, when Lake Rescue finally iced over. The bird kept a small area open by its constant swimming, he said.

On Friday, George Scribner, a Vermont Fish and Wildlife game warden, tried to catch the loon by going out with his kayak and a net. But the bird proved too active for Scribner to catch.

Plans to have the Ludlow Fire Department do a training exercise to rescue the bird on Saturday morning were cancelled Friday night because the bird’s opening was too big for a successful capture, according to Ludlow Fire Chief Peter Kolenda.

But on Sunday morning, Wingate and Fisher decided that the mild temperatures of the weekend and Saturday’s rain had opened up more territory on the clear sections of Lake Rescue and it was worth a try to break a channel and coax the reluctant bird through it.

Wingate, the president of the Lake Rescue Association, said he consulted regularly during the past week with Eric Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Loon Recovery Project, a joint effort of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Hanson, reached Sunday evening at his Craftsbury home, said it wasn’t that unusual for a young loon to get caught during the icing-in of a lake. He said that young loons, which is what the Lake Rescue loon probably was, typically migrate after their parents. Usually young loons band together and migrate together, he said. The cold doesn’t bother them, he said.

According to Wingate, the young loon’s parents left the lake in early December, but he stayed behind.

Hanson said that loons from Vermont spend the winter in the ocean off New England. Originally it was thought that New England loons traveled to the coast of North Carolina, but research, including banding and satellite telemetry, showed they wintered off New England.

He said when he traveled to Nantucket last March, he saw loons in the ocean there.

Hanson said that Scribner had planned on netting the loon and bringing it to Lake Bomoseen or Lake Champlain, where there is plenty of open water. Loons typically need at least 200 feet of open water to take off, he said, because they are such heavy birds. Loons really prefer to live in 10- to 20-acre lakes so they have plenty of room to take off, he said.

Published in Animals, Life
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