Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pacific Loon

About two weeks ago a Pacific Loon was found at a local residential pond. It is a very unusual bird to find on the east coast. The bird hung around for a week so last weekend my wife and I headed down to see if. When we arrived we aw a few birders along one side but we decided to drive around the edge of the pond to see if there was a place to park and what else we might see. On the far side of the pond we found a Horned Grebe in breeding plumage. It afforded us several good looks but a little far for camera range.

Horned Grebe
Common (left) and Pacific (right) Loons
There were also plenty of Lesser Scaup and an American Coot. We then drove back to the front side of the pond where we had seen the other birder when we first arrived. They were packing up but mentioned they had seen the Pacific Loon and it was moving all over the pond. So we set up the spotting scope and starting hunting through the loons that we could see in the middle of the pond. the Pacific Loon isn't a whole lot different from the Common Loons that were in winter plumage. So we had to study each one. Key identifying marks are a thinner bill, browner plumage, and less white on the throat and around the eye compared to Common Loons. The birds were hard to study since they would only stay on the surface for a few seconds before diving. And then they would come up quite a distance away. So we would have to watch for one to surface, get the scope on it and then start looking for the field marks anew since we couldn't tell if it was the one had been looking at or not. Eventually we could start telling that one was different from the rest and finally identify it as the Pacific Loon. It was a fun challenge. Plus, there was one Common Loon that was most of the way to molting to breeding plumage; something we seldom see here in the south.

Here are a few pictures of the Pacific Loon and breeding Common Loon.

Pacific Loon

Common Loon in breeding plumage

And this turned out to be a three loon winter as I also saw Red-throated Loons on the Christmas Bird Count.

Be sure to check out the other outstanding bird photographs at Wild Bird Wednesday.