Loon in a Box
While I was birding along the Cape Canaveral National Seashore in late January with Scott Weidensaul, Lisa White, and Liz DeLuna Gordon, our group was approached by a female park ranger who asked us if we were birders. The immediate follow-up question was: "Can you identify that bird on the beach up there by the guy in the blue jacket?"
Even though it was a quarter-mile away, we could see it was a large bird--almost certainly a common loon--and it was on the sand, looking fairly listless.
The ranger said, "I thought so. That's about the twenty-fifth one I've found this winter. Young loons come down here each winter and get dunked a few times in the surf and end up on shore. They don't know how to get back out to the open water. The ones we don't find probably starve or die of thirst. I'm going to get that one. Y'all can come and watch if you want."
We did want.
So we followed the officer up the access road to the next beach boardwalk. And by the time we'd gotten there, she was already coming back to the parking lot with the loon secured in a giant plastic box, complete with lid and breathing holes.
"I keep this box in my cruiser for this very thing. I'll bet I've saved 20 loons this winter already."
We helped her load the box into her cruiser and followed her to an embayment a few miles away. This was where she let all the foundered loons go. It's a quiet lagoon on the bayside of the barrier island--perfect for a loon to get its wits back while doing a bit of easy fishing.
"I release them here and if they've got the will to live, they do fine on this lagoon until they're strong enough to take off. If they don't have the will to live, at least they're not on the beach, where the tide or something else will get them," she explained.
The ranger reached in and grabbed the young loon to set it free. Just then it gave the most haunting, spine-tingling series of high yodels--that quintessential call of the wild. I got chills and we alll just gasped in amazement. What a special moment!
As the ranger waded into the shallows and lowered the loon to the water, it gave yet another yodel, then struggled free and swam away, tentatively at first, then more strongly. When it began periscoping its head to look for food, we knew this one had the will to make it. We watched the young loon swim out to the middle of the lagoon, past several fishermen in kayaks. It began diving and preening. All was (at least temporarily) right with the world.
What a nice thing to be part of in the middle of a day of birding. And what a caring person the ranger was, to take time out of her work to help a fellow creature in need and to let us be a part of the experience. I was happy we'd visited into the Cape Canaveral National Seashore.
It held, for us, wonders unforeseen.
Apologies for the super-sized photos. Had to use Flickr, coz Blogger was acting more like Frogger.