The call of a loon is haunting. An eerie tremolo that has been described as an insane laugh - the signature sound of the northern wilderness.
We find it peaceful, even romantic. Auditory nostalgia for quiet evenings on northern ponds.
Loons arrive in our area - on Hempstead Harbor - during the winter, their plumage a muted crosshatch of brown and gray. In summer they return to lakes from New Hampshire to Nova Scotia decked out in bold tuxedos with black-and-white stripes and checkerboards. Dressed up for mating season.
Around Sea Cliff here on Long Island we don't hear loons calling, perhaps because they aren't mating or they are harder to hear on open marine waters. But on a lake in Maine ringed by an amphitheater of pine trees, their calls echo through still summer nights.
Loons are northern birds and the five species found in America live across the northern tier of states from the East to the West coasts. They are equally at home on fresh and salt water, feeding on everything from yellow perch, bluegill, catfish, minnows, trout, frogs, crabs and even lobster.
Females lay 1-2 eggs per nest and share incubation duties with males for an average of 27 days. Hatchlings are often seen hitching a ride on the adults' backs when learning to swim and resting. Their low reproduction rate is compensated by a long lifespan. There is reportedly a loon in New Hampshire that is over 30 years old.
The next time you are on a northern lake or pond, give a listen around sunset or during the night. You may hear the romantic call of the loon, like the whistle of a distant train in the night.
Photography by Mark Pouley at Twin Lake Images. All images in the text and most in the video are Mark's gorgeous work. Check his website for more!
Video: Loons With Crossed Beaks. Gary Wege of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Video: Front View & Wing Flap. Pixabay.