Bird #377 — Pacific Loon

gavia (sea smew) pacifica (of the Pacific)

Monday, September 20, 1999 — 6:45 pm

Crystal Lake, Illinois — Vulcan Lake — Dartmoor Road

This one was easy. I got an E-mail from IBET at work this afternoon reporting a Pacific Loon in Crystal Lake. It was in Vulcan Lake, a flooded quarry southeast of town. I knew right where this was. Twice this year I’ve spotted loons there as I drove by. But Monday is basketball night, and I didn’t want to miss that. When I finished playing, I drove over. The directions sent me to Dartmoor Road, on the west side of the lake. The road ended in a cul-de-sac. There was a ridge between the road and the lake lined with no trespassing signs. I climbed the ridge and walked about 15 feet down the other side. Beyond that there was a 50-foot drop- off to the water.

There were only two birds in sight, about 100 feet out from the shore. I set up my scope. Both were loons, a Common and a Pacific. They were very similar looking, but I could see some vital differences.

The two birds stayed close together, never more than 10 feet apart. They drifted, looking about alertly, sometimes facing directly at me, but usually showing me their right sides. I ran up over the ridge to the car and checked my field guide to make sure I was seeing what I needed to see then went back and looked again. The loons were closer, perhaps within 75 yards.

I was still in my shorts and T-shirt from basketball, although the sweat had dried. A fairly brisk wind was blowing right in my face, from the northeast, and there were six-inch waves. The sun was setting fast and was by this time below the skyline. If I had arrived 10 minutes later, it would have been difficult to make out colors on the birds. I was going to stay as long as they kept drifting closer, but this wasn’t long. About 10 minutes after I first arrived, they turned and headed back the way they had come. The swiftly-arriving dusk, the chill (probably about 55), my attire, and my hunger decided me, and I went home. I found out the next day that the property owners of Vulcan Lake were having birders arrested and prosecuted for trespassing where I had been.

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