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A Beautiful Haunting By Sherrie Versluis


L


iving in Canada is a great thing for nature lovers. We are fortu- nate to have such diverse habitats


to enjoy everything Mother Nature has to offer. Almost everyone has at some point gone ‘to the lake’. There’s noth- ing like heading out to cottage coun- try to go swimming, fishing, or to just relax and de-stress. One of the most well-known trademarks of our lakes is the haunting call of the Common Loon (Gavia immer). So popular is the loon that its image adorns the Canadian one dollar coin, known of course as the Loonie. This beautiful bird’s haunting call is one of total serenity and peace. Sadly, this peaceful tune has become one that is heard less and less each year. Fossil evidence shows loons have been


around for approximately 50 million years with the earliest specie of loon found in Scotland. Other loon fossils were discovered in France, Italy, Czech- oslovakia and North America. The Common Loon of today is thought to have evolved over 10 million years ago. Loons have been revered by humans


as far back as history can show. The loon holds an honoured spot in several


38 • Summer 2015


cultures and there are many legends and beliefs surrounding it. Indian tribes of North America believed that the loon would guide the soul of the dead to a new world. The ancient Inuit of Alaska had elaborate burials for loons which included adorning the skull with ivory eyes. One legend tells of how loons have the ability to give sight to those who are blind by taking them to the bottom of the lake many times until their vision is restored. It is said that the white band- ing around the neck of the loon is a white necklace of shells that was gift of gratitude from someone whose eyesight returned. Another Native legend talks of the loon’s magical powers and how at the beginning of creation the loon would dive down to the bottom of the lake floor and bring up mud for the Creator to make the earth. The Common Loon can dive to the


amazing depth of 230 feet! They have a lifespan of 30 years and require a lake size of at least 12 acres to nest. Adult birds are about three feet in length and weigh in the area of 12 pounds. Loons do not start nesting until the age of six, laying one to two eggs in late May.


Both parents take part in the incuba- tion, always staying close to the nest unless there is a major disturbance. Eggs hatch in 29 days and the young will stay with their parents for the rest of the summer. The ‘yodel’ call of the loon announces territory, the ‘treme- lo-call’ is described as an alarm call, and the ‘wail-call’ is a form of contact between a pair. As the Industrial Revolution began,


man’s love and respect for the loon took a tragic turn. The loon was one of the first creatures to be affected by acid rain and was the poster picture for the effects of oil spills on birds. Fishing nets and lines along with lead weights caused many loons to drown. Pesticides and chemicals had damaging effects on loons and their food sources, poison- ing them. Early Europeans arrived in North America and hunted loons to the point of major decline. Shooting loons was a big sport due to the challenge of trying to get a diving bird. Later, fishermen also destroyed loons as they were considered competition. Thankfully, the loon population is considered stable today, but is still


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