Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Elusive Loon

From Long Island I drove straight up to Ithaca to look again for the Pacific Loon. Another rarity for New York, this bird has returned to Cayuga Lake each winter for several years now. I'd already tried twice for this bird when I went up to see the Ross's Gull, but I was hopeful the third time would be the charm. That said, this is not an easy bird to see. Cayuga is the largest of the Finger Lakes, and the loon seems to move around quite a bit. Also, loons are diving birds, and when the bird is feeding it's underwater more often than not. I watched a Common Loon on the lake dive and stay under for at least two minutes, to reappear many hundreds of yards away from where I first saw it. That means that you might be looking at the exact spot where the bird is, but if it's underwater you can still miss it. Cruising slowly up along the shoreline searching for the bird, it feels a little like looking for the Loch Ness Monster.

So that's what I did...I drove very slowly along the shoreline, stopping in spots, using bare eyes and binoculars, looking for the bird. For two days. And altough I saw a number of Common Loons, I never saw the Pacific. There were other birds to see, of course. On the north end of Cayuga there was a group of thousands of Redheads, several hundred Ring Necked Ducks, and over a hundred Tundra Swans (much easier to photograph than the Hook Pond swans). There was even a screech owl in a nesting box near the lake. The highlight of the trip happened as I was driving up the east side of the lake...I saw a large flock of geese approaching as I drove up route 90. They came closer and I saw that it was well over one thousand snow geese, cruising up along the lake edge in a loose formation. At some point we intersected, and for at least a minute or two I had the geese flying right above 45 miles an hour, the birds were still passing me! I took some don't-try-this-at-home shots through my sunroof as I drove, and then the birds finally veered off and flew out over the lake. It left me laughing out loud.

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