Saturday, November 26, 2011

The West Comes East: A Michigan Pacific Loon

After a rather frustrating few days (unsuccessful bird chases to Ohio, flat tires on a holiday weekend, and other frustrations (including the knowledge that the dregs of society will  pepperspray and shoot each other at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday), today was just plain pleasant. 

Good birds have a way of making that happen.

True to its name, the Pacific Loon shouldn't really be here in Michigan.  A breeder along the northern reaches of the continent (Alaska and northwest Canada), they usually disperse south along the west coast for the winter.  Now  and then, they come inland; even to the Great Lakes believe it or not.

So yesterday, a birder found one in Monroe County. Sterling State Park to be exact.  37 times this bird has been recorded in Michigan.  With the Park only twenty minutes down the road, I figured it was worth a quick trip.  

Upon arriving at the northwest corner of the south lagoon, I found Cathy Carroll sitting there. Pulling up a rock at the water, we were joined moments later by Jim Fowler.  In front of us sat the loon.

Over the next 30 minutes or so, the clock-wise feeding circle took it in and out of camera range.  As it tooled around and dove, we had a great chance to check out the relevant field marks.  Subtle bill structure (compared to other loons), a nice, smooth, rounded head, grayish tones on the back of the neck and a solid white throat with a "chinstrap".  The scaling on the back suggests an immature bird (born this year).  

At times, it was not 35 yards out.  With a 400mm lens, I managed a fair shot.  You can even see the water droplets on the bill and head. 

This final picture shows just how different, and simultaneously similar, a Pacific Loon and a Common Loon can  appear.  The Common, on the right, has a larger noggin with a forehead lump, and a heavier bill.  How nice it was for the birds to cooperate.

So there you have it.  My third Pacific Loon for Michigan and the first for Monroe County. I now have 211 species for that county. My Michigan 2011 list now stands at a pitiful 195 species. 


Accidental said...

Great photos!

Accidental Birder said...

Great photos!