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Inside the Outdoors: Out east, they’re as loony as Minnesotans

Inside the Outdoors

Loon watching the sunrise over Indian Lake in the Adirondacks of New York state. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

When a person travels nearly half way across the country, he might expect to find many things to be different from the familiarities of home. But as a seasoned traveler could tell you, Americans in distant places are predictably more alike than they are different. A recent expedition by automobile to New York State to meet a new grandchild did nothing to cast doubt on that fact. One of the things shared by Minnesotans and many in the East is a fascination with—even a reverence for—our state bird, the common loon.

Despite the world becoming more and more a place of digital communication, some who are old school like me are still drawn to the printed page, and when we’re in new places we indulge our curiosity in the old-fashioned way. On a grocery store newsstand in the Hudson River Valley I found the New York state version of our own popular publication “Outdoor News,” in which I discovered some of the fishing, hunting and conservation issues that are of interest to readers there. I read about the uptick in firearms hunting accidents during the pandemic year, about leaner prospects for spring turkey hunting success, as well as tips for catching early season crappies. Sound familiar?

Poised in front of this newsstand, my eye was also caught by the glossy cover of a magazine entitled “Adirondack Life.” As implied in the title and confirmed in its plainly expensive production, “Adirondack Life” is a lifestyle publication that “covers New York state’s six million acre Adirondack Park,” which the magazine’s masthead claims “offers more wild country than Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier National Parks combined.”

This grand claim aside, it might surprise some to discover that only a few hours from the noise and crowds at the center of the financial universe—New York City—there is forest, lake and river-blessed country that is not all that different from the most scenic and wild environs of Northern Minnesota. The park is named for the storied Adirondack mountain range in upper New York State, which happens to be the setting for the classic 19th century novel “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper.

In an article highlighting the many water routes that canoe and kayak paddlers can take through Adirondack Park, a photo transported me right back to Minnesota. It was a large color image of a man-made loon nesting platform, complete with a rustic sign identifying its purpose. A Minnesotan would have known what it was without the signage. But, considering the potential Adirondack Park clientele—perhaps visitors whose natural habitat is the urban jungle of New York City—the zoo-like signage on the nesting platform could be forgiven.


Like Minnesota, with its National Loon Center that is located in Crosslake, New York has a counterpart in the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation. This nonprofit organization has been conducting studies on the loon population in the Adirondacks since 1998, including research on the impact of environmental pollutants on loon survival and reproductive success.

Not by coincidence, New York is one of six states that have imposed restrictions on the sale and use of lead fishing tackle in the form of weights—“sinkers”—and jigs. There, as here in Minnesota, dead and debilitated loons have been found to have elevated levels of lead, and such items of fishing tackle have been discovered in post mortem loon examinations. Only dead loons found and recovered before decomposition can be tested, so the number that die annually of lead poisoning in Minnesota is an estimate, but is believed to be about 100 to 200.

The other states with lead tackle restrictions—all but one in the East—include Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Washington. All have some level of restriction on the use or sale of lead fishing tackle, at least in the smaller sizes that are most likely to be consumed by loons, swans, or other wildlife. Bills have been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature to eventually restrict the manufacture, sale and use of lead fishing tackle here, but so far there has been insufficient bipartisan support for such restrictions to become law.

Those of us with “a few miles on us” will remember the Academy Award-winning 1981 film “On Golden Pond,” starring Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, a film whose central themes include coping with aging and the specter of death, and family estrangement and reconciliation. The loons that nest on fictitious Golden Pond are conspicuous supporting actors in the film, and inspire Ms. Hepburn’s character Ethel Thayer to exclaim upon their arrival for the summer that “The loons … they’re welcoming us back.”

“On Golden Pond” was filmed on a lake in New Hampshire, with the screenwriter’s inspiration actually coming from summers spent at a cabin in Maine, on a lake named Great Pond. Whether in real life or on the silver screen, it’s not hard to find evidence that the common loon—a bird of rare beauty, haunting voice, and wilderness persona—has acquired a large fan base and an uncommon level of admiration, elsewhere as well as here in Minnesota.

Mike Rahn - Inside the Outdoors.jpg
Mike Rahn, columnist

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