The closest animal that we had on that small Iowa farm resembling this bird was a Hampshire hog. The pig was black and white, but could only grunt, not call.
We didn't have many loons in Iowa.
Minnesota's state bird, the common loon, will be on display this week on the lakes and rivers of the state in view of thousands of fisher-people who will be plying the waters in search of a fish.
The loon's haunting calls will be heard early in the morning and late evening as the bird takes flight over lake-land. To some humans it will be their first encounter with that unique and northern sound. To others it will be a reassurance that the loon still lives and reproduces here.
On my parents' first vacation to Minnesota, my dad remarked that when he first heard a loon call at sunrise he thought it might be a moose. How could such a small bird sound so large, he thought. But soon through the rising mist from this north country lake, he spied the source of the sound - a loon quietly floating in front of his cabin.
I had the same feeling the first time I heard that warbling, wavering, lonesome call. I've never tired of hearing that sound.
Could our loons be in trouble? Just last week a friend and I were driving by a public access on the small lake that is located near my house. A tall, slender young man was pulling his boat out of the water as we approached. I asked my friend to stop to ask how the fishing had been.
The young man responded that he was not fishing. He was an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and he was counting loon nests on the lake. He further explained that there is an ongoing study of how loons are doing in their northern reaches.
"I found two artificial loon nest platforms and one natural nest," he related.
He further explained to us that the study is a three-year study that is being conducted partially to examine how the Gulf of Mexico oil spill might be affecting loon eggs. Studies are being conducted to determine if oil is being incorporated in loon egg shells, thus making them more susceptible to breaking, much alike how DDT affected eagle eggs before the substance was banned many years ago.
Minnesota loons migrate to the Gulf of Mexico each fall and feed on critters that swim in oil spill areas. No determinations have been made at this point, but how that oil might affect loon eggs is a concern.
Each of the nests this man discovered were noted on his GPS instrument, and all nests found in the northern regions of the Upper Midwest are being noted as well. At the end of the program a journal will be produced stating the results of the study. That paper will be of interest to many who enjoy this deep diving bird that can't walk on land.
Loon calls will be heard all over lake country this weekend and throughout the summer season. We can only hope that with all the threats to its existence that face this magnificent bird, those calls will be heard by others who venture north in the future.
And, good luck fishing!
See you next time. Okay? Stay safe!