Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Common Loon

...continued from the Large Milkweed Bugs post.
Let’s hop back a week to Saturday, Nov 7, when I went to Caesar Creek State Park with the Cincinnati Birding Club and saw 10+ Common Loons. My photos of the loons were horrible. We were so far away that they just looked like little silhouettes, so to get a decent view I had to paint one. The Common Loons we saw that day were not in breeding plumage, they were much duller in their basic plumage of gray and white, but if you’re going to paint a loon, he might as well be wearing his finery…

Common Loon in Breeding Plumage

In Cincinnati, we only get to see loons during migration, and even then, if you’re not in the right place at the right time, it’s hard, so I’ve never heard the incredible mating calls you hear so much about. I want to head up north one of these summers during breeding season so I can experience that. I would love to see a nest as well…

Since I’m not that familiar with the Common Loon, I got out my “Birds of Ohio” book by Jim McCormic to see if he had any interesting tid-bits about the bird. Part of the reason I like McCormic's book is because he throws in interesting facts you don’t find in standard field guides. The Common Loon is a diver, and if you’ve ever watched one, you know he can swim great distances under water. You probably also noticed he sits noticeably low in the water. Mr. M explains why,
“These divers are well adapted to their aquatic lifestyle: most birds have hollow bones, but loons have nearly solid bones that make them less buoyant. As a result, loons float low on the water, resembling partially submerged submarines.”
I would assume the extra weight helps them stay under the water as they dive for food, and probably has something to do with the fact they have to run across the water for so long (like an airplane on a runway) before they can become airborne. I remember reading somewhere that loons never glide when they are flying...I guess they have to flap those wings non-stop to keep their considerable heft aloft! Their wings are also fairly small for their bodies--all to help them dive and swim under water.

Flap oh hefty one, flap!

Another one of my favorite Ohio bird books is “The Birds of Ohio,” by Bruce G. Peterjohn. This is a must-have book. He lists records of sightings going all the way back to the 1800s, but what’s really helpful is the array of breeding bird atlas maps. If you have a question about a breeding bird in Ohio, it’s a great place to start. I always read this book to find out non-field guide information. It’s huge, too…coming in at 637 pages.

...like this photo is any better!
(Do you see why I had to paint this dude?)

If I want to get out and see some more of these birds, I had better hurry. According to Peterjohn,
“Common Loons are most numerous in autumn. The largest movements occur during November, when these loons become common to abundant along Lake Erie and fairly common to locally abundant on large inland lakes. During most years, numbers of Common Loons are greatly reduced by the first week of December. Most December sightings are of 1-8 loons, with occasional flocks of 15-40. The last flocks disappear by mid-December, although scattered individuals will remain into the first half of January as long as open water remains available.”
P.S. I just read on the Birding in Cincinnati website that 225+ Loons were on the river at Crooked Run Nature Preserve to the Meldahl Dam. I need to find out where this place is!

37 comments:

Elaine said...

Your painting is gorgeous! How lovely to be able to paint what you are unable to get a photo of. There were several shots I missed on our roadtrip that are vivid in my mind, but I know my results wouldn't be as beautiful as yours. Thanks for sharing.

Sue said...

Kelly, you are indeed one talented gal! Wow.
And going up north doesn't guarantee a good sighting.....
I've lived here a couple years and have yet to see one. Sigh.!

Kim said...

What a gorgeous painting of the Common Loon. Such a pretty bird.

Roy said...

Yes! I can see why you painted it Kelly. {:)
Love the painting, its just great and very nicely represented.

Chris said...

Hi Kelly,
Your painting are so beautiful... I love this one a lot! And I hope that next year you will also be able to get nice pictures of the loon.

Laure Ferlita said...

Great job on the loon! Love the slight reflections in the water! Interesting and informative post - as always!

Jayne said...

When ever I hear Loons, I think of the movie On Golden Pond. :c) Love your beautiful watercolor Kelly.

Kelly said...

Elaine...thank you. I'm trying to paint more and more...

Sue...Oh no! Have you heard any?

Kim...thanks, Kim!

Roy...isn't he cool. His design is so intricate, you have to marvel at that pattern.

Chris...thank you. I would love to see one up close too, but.........I bet it will be several years before I'm ever close enough.

Laure...thank you! The reflection is my favorite part of the painting. When it slowly started to form I was so excited! I've never painted a reflection. It's subtle work.

Kelly said...

Jayne.....can you believe that's a movie I've never seen!!! If there is a call of a loon in it, I've get to get it.

Roy said...

Great painting!

We're a prime wintering spot for Loons here, both Common and Red-throated. In a typical Winter walk on the Cliff Walk you'll probably see at least 10 (and usually more) in the waters between the beginning at Memorial Blvd. and the half-way point at Marine Ave.

BTW, besides having solid bones for ballast in diving, they also don't walk very well; their feet are set so far back on their underside (better propulsion for diving) that they're virtually useless on land. So they pretty much live on the water, and their nests are in rocks at water's edge or on islands.

MjB said...

Nice painting. The Ohio River spot at Chilo is easy to get to, and they do seem to use the Ohio River as a migration corridor, locally. I've heard Common Loons calling during fall migration on the Ohio River, as well as on a reservoir or two in west-central Ohio. If I remember correctly, in both cases it was foggy and overcast. Probably just coincidence.

Kelly said...

Roy...thank you very much. You definitely live in prime territory! You chose well when you decided to settle! I read about those misplaced feet. Have you ever seen them on the ground? I've only seen them in the water and in the air (but I haven't seen them very much). I've seen photos of the babies riding the mama's back...I wonder if she gives them a ride from the nest to the water as well since they can't walk on land very well.

MjB...thanks! I just looked it up. I'm going to have to program the place into Jill the GPS Girl and check it out. She can get me there! I hope the fog and overcast weather holds! :-)

yen said...

nice painting besides all those wonderful photos that you have taken/shared, quite a talent!

Cicero Sings said...

There is usually a nesting pair on our lake down the hill and I love hearing their calls. If out in the kayak, they will pop up and check you out but from a safe distance, before diving off in search of more interesting stuff ... like fish. You can pop on up here for a visit anytime in the summer!

Warren Baker said...

Wish I could paint like that Kelly, very nice!

Get out and find those Loons!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Wow Kel... What a gorgeous painting. You did GREAT. So much talent!!!!! I'm so impressed.

I love loons and remember them in the movie, On Golden Pond.

Hugs,
Betsy

Connie said...

I think I would prefer the painting even if you had taken some great shots of the loons. (and I know you can take some beautiful photographs)

sharon said...

Great painting - you're one very talented lady!
Good luck with the Loons!

Kelly said...

yen...thank you. Painting is very relaxing, and it really lets you get inside the bird.

Cicero Sings...now that's an idea! I know British Columbia is beautiful in the summer from all the photos.

Warren...thanks...I hope to this weekend!

Betsy...thank you!! (I've never seen that movie, but everyone says it's great.)

Connie...you're so nice!! Thanks!

Kelly said...

Sharon....I don't know how much talent I have, but I love the birds and that's all it takes. Painting them makes you really think about them and study them. It's relaxing as well... Thank you!

Chris Petrak said...

Hard to blieve that a summer loon and a winter loon are the same bird! But they are fascinating. Also enjoyed your juncos - we came home to a yard full, and needed a fire in the wood stove. Guess that means winter is on the way.

carolmattinglyphotography said...

Kelly, I would kill to see a real loon. I love them. They are so perfect looking. Like penguins. Great story. Thanks for sharing this. Love love love that photo you painted. I'm doing good to draw a straight line. Carol

Dave Lewis said...

Hi Kelly!
Come up to Cleveland, there have been quite a few Loons on the lake lately! Other than me of course...
Outstanding watercolor!

Andy Wilson said...

They have been a challenge for me to get a decent photo as well

Andy Wilson said...

Oh, nice painting too!

NatureFootstep said...

I could never be a great painter, that is why I have the camera. Good of you to handle both. :)

RuthieJ said...

Your painting is beautiful Kelly! You are so talented.

I have heard the loons singing in northern Minnesota and it's one of the most beautiful sounds in the world (at least to me).

Atanasio Fernández García said...

Hello Kelly! This is a beautiful bird, with plumage fascinating! I've only seen once during a trip along the coast of Sweden, a few years ago ... but I still remember vividly the scene and the impression I had. Congratulations, your painting is excellent. A hug from Spain!

Tammie Lee said...

Your painting is wonderful. I love how you just picked up the brush when the photo did not work, so many talents you have! We have a few loons here and there, I love to hear them call.

Jenny said...

Fab painting Kelly. We usually only get to see them in winter plumage over here too. Usually miles out to sea so that they're just blobs! Makes for interesting ID problems with other divers! (-:

Uncommon Depth said...

This is gorgeous. Who needs photographs when you can paint like this. It is much more charming.

Susan said...

Hi Kelly -I read all these posts and realize how lucky we are ...we're on a bay in the Ottawa River, and have loons all summer...usually just one pair, sometimes two as they're territorial, and each bay is generally claimed along the river around here. The call of the Loon is stunningly plaintive and haunting -especially on a warm spring night as you're drifting off to sleep. I've also been fortunate to watch a mating dance..and that was unforgettably beautiful,the best ballet I've ever seen.

Kerri said...

I LOVE your painting...you are so talented! I am in awe! I have never seen a Loon before...would love to!

Susan W. said...

Incredibly beautiful paintings! I'd love to have a gallery of your pieces showcased in my living room. Thank you for sharing your wonderful world with the rest of the world!

Anna said...

Kelly I love those birds, especially the sound they make. I only seen them once in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton. When you find this place with all these loons, you let me know, lol, I would love to see that many. Anna :)

Mary said...

The painting is gorgeous! Loons are so pretty.

TonyC said...

Great post Kelly. If you have a "thing" for loons, check the library for books by Mike Tomkies. He lived a recluseful life in Scotland studying Loons (divers and Eagles amongst other wildlife - a great winter read!!