Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Stop-Over Time

I FINALLY have the time to sit down and blog about my Loon observations... but it seems silly to try to write about the entire winter in one post. So, I'll start from the present, and just sort of write about what I've learned along the way.

On the 18th, I noticed Loon numbers were low at the highway 69 causeway. Normally, throughout the winter, I have counted between 100-200 birds at any given time. But, it's mid-March, and it's time for my lovelies to make their way back north. All of the birds have their flight feathers intact, and at least half (if not more) are in alternate plumage. I count no more than 43 birds.

May I break for a minute to just say that there is not a single bird, to me, prettier than a Common Loon in alternate plumage. When the sun hits their feathers just right, it's nothing short of breathtaking. I feel a definite privilege to have the opportunity to observe these birds from such a close range.

Back on track now.

I go back on the 20th, and numbers are still low. 48 birds that day. One flyover, which was promising. I know there will come a point where the numbers should spike as the Loons from the Gulf stop over to rest on Guntersville Lake.

That point would come yesterday. I count 83 birds, plus 6 flyovers. The bridge area still holds the most activity at this point, and rafts are low in number. Each only consisting of a handful of birds. I decide to come back today (the 24th) to see if numbers have improved, and to get better photos since the day was forecast to be sunny and warm.

I arrive at 8 AM, and immediately notice large rafts in the distance. I scan with my camera and see a large raft on the north end consisting of 62 birds. A few birds are within 50 yards of the bridge.

I then cross the four-lane highway to check the south side of the causeway, and find a raft of 69 birds at about 75 yards out. More birds are around the bridge on this side, and I climb down the steep grade of rock to get to the water's edge and get on the level of the birds.

My total count would be 152 birds, with zero flyovers. It's stop-over time!

As I sit patiently, surrounded by fishermen who look at me as though they think me laying on the rocks with my large camera makes me some sort of crazy- I notice a pair of Loons displaying courtship behavior out near the large raft. Too far for clear photos, so I just watch through my camera for a minute.

For the most part, the Loons around the bridge dive frequently, and often emerge with fish. Today it would be Freshwater Drum and Yellow/Striped Bass. Here's one almost losing its catch:

Normally I shoot photos from the bridge, which is about 15 feet up from the water. Shooting from water level is far more challenging, and the lighting is not near as good as when I can move around to position myself in the best possible way. There's a lot of trial and error, but I have the time to sit and watch and figure it all out.

So, I observe for about an hour or so on the south side, before this one decides to pop up for some great photos:

Now, I walk under the bridge to do my observations at the north side, since the sun is now starting to get harsh towards the south. I get the same count I got an hour before, so the number (152) remains accurate. Over here, the Loons are a little further out, but I get a couple good shots. I'm pretty sure the molting Loon is the same one I photographed weeks ago, and I now have hanging on my living room wall:

So, with the help of Dr. Paul Spitzer, I am focusing on observing these birds at the lake, and gathering information on their behaviors and duration of their stay here in Guntersville. I do have my fingers crossed for finding more banded birds. I may even make a trip to Minnesota in late spring-early summer to visit them in their breeding grounds.

I wish I had the time to write more, but I will be updating again soon with some other Loon information I've learned this winter.

Happy birding.


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