Pieter’s Lens – The Loon Story Continues

Male loon displaying to female loon on pond, the beginning of the loon story

By Pieter van Loon, VLT forester —

Back in May I was taking my cameras for a walk on 90 acres of conserved land on the shore of South Pond in Marlboro. When I stuck my head through the thicket of speckled alders on the pond edge, I was surprised to see two loons fairly close. Needless to say, they were a bit surprised, too. I quickly snapped a picture, cropped it to show the male loon displaying, wings wide, head high, chest puffed out, and posted it to Instagram. The truth of that photo is shown below. He was working with all his might to show her how worthy he was, but she was more interested in fishing.

Male loon displaying to female loon on  pond

Well, despite that early hiccup, they seemed to have come to an agreement. In late July, I was told they had a pair of chicks. That started a series of trips to South Pond with my kayak and camera to watch the family grow.

During my first trip, there were 3 adults on the pond and they were swimming and diving with great energy. I figured the fishing must have been great. Then a friend told me the adults were trying to drive the intruder off their territory and all that splashing was fighting. I was there for a couple hours and the adults didn’t get to spend any time with the chicks who were far too young to fend for themselves. One of them seemed hungry, repeatedly opening its mouth as if asking to be fed.

One of a pair of loon twins on pond, with beak open to be fed Loon twins on pond

I live less than a mile from the pond and over the next week I heard loons calling and flying time and again. When I went back to the pond a week later, there were two extra adults. They were being escorted counterclockwise around the edge of the pond, all four adults nervously circling each other, menacing with stout bills, and diving. The chicks seemed to be doing OK, but I worried the adults were spending so much time driving off intruders, they might not have time or energy for kid care. 

Fast forward to mid-August and it was apparent the chicks were getting plenty of attention and food. They had transformed from fluffy little feather balls to true angsty loon teenagers, complete with funky hairdos and scaly tattoos thanks to their molting feathers.

Growing loon on pond, with molting feathers

Now they are trying to fly, slapping wings on the water and scooting along, but not getting close to airborne. One of them can feed itself, the other seems to depend on its parents for sustenance.

Young loons feeding on fish in the pond

They seem a very happy little family. This is the third year in a row that South Pond has hosted nesting loons who have succeeded in raising young. Although we can’t know for sure, I’ll bet one reason why they are so successful is because the entire shore of the pond has been conserved over the years by thoughtful, generous landowners who cherish the values the pond provides to communities in the area, human and avian.

About Pieter’s Lens: Not only does Vermont Land Trust forester Pieter van Loon know his trees, but he is also a great photographer and observer of wildlife. We asked Pieter to share what he sees in the field as he visits land conserved with VLT. Take a walk in the woods with Pieter by following #PietersLens on our social sites