Whale Watching for Loons

Common Loon photo IMG_0780_zpsq9tvnw9b.jpg

Lake George is a sizable body of water located just south of West Branch, Michigan. Like many small northern lakes it presents two faces during the summer. It becomes a boiling pot of motorboats and Jet skis during the weekend, thanks to the public launch, and a slew of private residences populating half of its shores. The other half of the lake is bordered by wild lands, however, and for most of the week it is calm and serene.

Two of the lake’s residents, a pair of Common Loons, are tied to this wild side and are the epitome of wildness themselves. It is hard to image how the birds put up with all the hub-bub – perhaps they leave for calmer waters during peak activity and then return after the last wakes die down. One could imagine that such birds would be a bit on edge.  Imagine my surprise when a recent encounter with these Loons was both up close and personal.

When my wife and I first pushed out into the Lake George water with our kayaks there was no sign of life.  The weekend boaters were gone and the lake surface was as glass reflecting a clear blue summer sky. As if entering the world for the first time, a loon magically popped up out of the water immediately ahead of my kayak. It eyed me severely and I expected it to immediately disappear from whence it came – never to be seen again. Indeed it did dive again but bobbed back up in the same place. It continued to do so as if we were not present.

Common Loon photo IMG_0639_zpsy0dkmrzp.jpg   Common Loon photo IMG_0659_zps4xxe2jai.jpg

Another bird soon joined in, also appearing to ignore our presence, and the two cavorted about, around, and under our kayaks for well over 20 minutes. Both birds were actively fishing and engaging in completely normal behavior. Swimming with their heads dipped under the surface they eyed the depths for quarry before taking a plunge. Every now and then one would open up it’s wings and send a spray of golden water droplets into the air.

Common Loon photo IMG_0625_zpsynsd5jmq.jpg  Common Loon photo IMG_0651_zps0coc9lww.jpg

It was impossible to tell where they would pop up again after a dive and, more often than not, they’d surface even closer than the point at which they disappeared.  The only wildlife viewing experience I could equate this to was whale watching off the coast of Maine. Although the scale was dramatically different, the quality was in the same category. Upon re-surfacing they even audibly expelled air! And frankly, there really is nothing to compare to the look of those fiery red eyes with mere pin-prick pupils.

Common Loon photo IMG_0789_zpsbc7oyy3r.jpg   Common Loon photo IMG_0787_zpsc7y3ghtl.jpg

At the time, the event seemed a “once in a lifetime” thing and we were willing to accept it as so. Upon returning to the lake a week later, however, the sequence repeated itself and the only limiting factor turned out to be our available time on the water. We were the visitors to this lake and the loons, well, were residents operating within the limitless bounds of wildness.

Common Loons astride a Kayak photo IMG_0617_zps0ggipkdh.jpg

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