Bird-Lore/Volume 01/No. 2/Loons at Home

"I"

Loons at Home

BY WILLIAM DUTCHER

should like to say a few words to the readers of Bird-Lore on the subject of making good photographs of birds. Don't conclude at once, when you see pictures of nests, or birds in their wild state, that it is an easy matter to get them. A year ago, when I saw the fine exhibition of slides presented by Mr. Brewster and Mr. Chapman at the American Ornithologists′ meeting, I at once concluded that it would be an easy thing for me to get similar results. So I forthwith invested much good money in purchasing a camera, and all the accompanying outfit : but not until I had worried all my photographic friends for advice of all kinds. With all the confidence of an expert I started on this unknown sea, and I must confess to you, patient reader, that my efforts were a brilliant string of failures, for from the more than one hundred and twenty-five plates that I exposed, I succeeded in getting only two good negatives. But I had lots of fun and plenty of experience, and am just as proud of my two good negatives as the celebrated old hen that had but one chick. If you want to learn to be patient and persevering, try photographing in the fields and woods. If you wish to learn more of the habits of birds than you can in any other possible way, try for hours to get them familiar enough with you and your camera to go on with their nest-building, or feeding their nestlings. Besides all this, in later days, whenever you see the photograph, it will recall to you every pleasant moment that you spent in getting the negative.

That you may share with me some of the pleasures that I experienced in getting a negative of a nest of eggs, from which the accompanying picture was made, let me tell you the following story about the Great Northern Diver, more commonly known as the Loon, and among the scientists as Gavia imber.

Those of you who are familiar with the Adirondack or Canada lakes can easily picture the surroundings of this nest, which I found in Higley Lake, Canada. This is a small body of water, hardly more than a very large pond. This section of Canada may be called a lake region, and is very beautiful. Most of the lakes are surrounded with forests, in which the contrasting colors of the evergreens and white birches add greatly to the natural beauty of the scenery. This nest was built in very shallow water, about eight feet from the shore. It was. at its base, about twenty inches in diameter, and at its apex about fifteen inches wide. It was about nine inches above the water at its greatest height, and composed entirely of mud, so far as I could determine, of a very dark color. The water where it was placed was not over six or eight inches deep, but it was really a very hard matter to determine exactly where the water ended and the mud commenced. This I acertained to my sorrow and discomfiture when I undertook to set up my tripod. Standing in a very round-bottomed boat and trying to plant a tripod in silt of seemingly unfathomable depth is no easy job, as I found out. Finally, however, I succeeded in getting what I now have the pleasure of showing you: but I dare not tell you of the beautiful failures I made before this picture was obtained. When I first discovered the nest, the Loon was upon it, but as soon as she saw me she slid off into the lake and made every effort to dive. It is true that her head was under the water, but her back was not until she had gone some feet from the nest out into the lake, where the water was deep enough to entirely cover her. She did not then appear until she was well across the pond, where she was joined by her mate. The nest contained only one egg when I first saw it : but in the water, on the lake side of the nest, I found another egg, which the mother bird had evidently rolled out of the nest, perhaps in her fright and hasty departure when she first saw me. This egg I replaced in the nest by lifting it with the broad end of the boat oar. thinking, perhaps, that handling it might cause the Loon to desert the nest. The egg that was in the water was many shades lighter in color than the one found in the nest, which leads me to believe that the eggs of birds that habitually breed in damp mud nests acquire a darker color from stains.

In another pond of about the same size, and within half a mile of Higley Lake, I subsequently saw a pair of Loons that had but one young, so far as I could ascertain. If there was another it was kept well hidden. I was very much interested in watching the methods by which the old birds kept the little fellow out of danger. When I first saw the family group, both parents and the little one were together; but immediately on the appearance of my boat the whole group disappeared under the surface. The young bird soon came to the surface again in about the same spot, but the parents were some distance off on the other side of the boat, so that I was between them. Both parents were perfectly quiet until I undertook to row toward their offspring, when

Nest and eggs of loon (Bird-Lore).png

NEST AND EGGS OF LOON

Photographed from Nature, by William Dutcher

one of the parents uttered what was to me a very new and peculiar cry, on hearing which the little one immediately dove; the cry was entirely different from the usual loud, maniacal cry of the Loons. As soon as the young one appeared I again started toward him, when the old bird repeated the same cry, and down went the little fellow. It was very evident that he knew whenever he heard that warning cry he must disappear at once. I had so much sympathy for the lonely little chap that I left him, after I had tried the experiment a number of times. As soon as I drew away to another part of the pond the old birds uttered the visual well known cry of the species, but the little one then remained on the surface and was soon joined by the parent birds.

A few weeks later the same group acted in an entirely different manner; then they remained together, and as the boat approached, the old bird with its bill seemed to push the young one under the water before it dove itself. If this bit of the domestic life of these two Loon families has interested you as much as it did me, I shall feel amply repaid for the thirty-two miles I had to drive each time I visited them.