What You Can See on April 23
Submitted by Ted Williams on Sun, 04/23/2006 - 08:19.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Loon Music Fresh from their ocean wintering habitat along the Pacific, Gulf, and Atlantic coasts, from the Aleutians to Newfoundland, common loons are chasing spring toward the treeline, ditching into lakes like stricken bombers, kicking up spray and skidding sideways. Sometimes they arrive minutes after ice-out, a feat they accomplish with constant reconnaissance flights. Watch these goose-size birds as they thrash the water in their defensive “penguin dance” or as they hunt for fish, ruby eyes submerged, black-and-white-checkered bodies floating high or low, depending on how much air they’ve squeezed from their feathers. Perhaps you will see one flash under your canoe, propelling itself with enormous webbed feet. Then, when the spires of the boreal forest blot the sun, listen to their music. It will start at one end of the lake and rush to the other—a wild, discordant yodeling like the thunder of expanding ice, a tremolo of demented laughter, somewhere a single, gentle hoot, or perhaps a wail like the distant whistle of a southbound freight. The yodel is the territorial vocalization of the male, actually the song. The wail and hoot are contact calls to family members; the tremolo, uttered in flight as well as on the water, connotes alarm. For those seeking respite from things human, few prescriptions are more curative than loon music. It is best taken when lying on one’s back under bright stars and beside campfire smoke that rises straight, with the music itself, into the infinite northern night.