|Loon at dawn on Beaver Lake.|
|Taking on air to gain buoyancy.|
We see them in Europe too, but mostly during winter and we call them Great Northern Divers. They really are big; much larger than the red throated and black throated divers that breed with us. They can be mistaken for geese when they ride high in the water, or for cormorants when they sink themselves.
Their tameness surprised me. In previous years at the lake we have only heard them, or caught a glimpse of them early in the morning but this pair stayed around all day, close to people on the shore and anglers in boats. They also seemed to eat enough sunfish to feed an army of cormorants.
If you watch them closely, you quickly see which bird is the male. His patterns are brighter and his outline is more solid. His movements seem more deliberate or purposeful than the languid, almost casual dives made by his mate.
They stay under water for half a minute at a time in our shallow lake, but can go much longer. When they surface, it is usually with a fish, but it is hard to tell. Unlike cormorants, they do not often lift their prey out of the water to swallow it. Most fish are small and are delicately dealt with on the surface. This could be because sunfish are quite spiny.
Of course it is the call of the loon that most people will recognise, even if they have no clue what a loon actually is. I saw American parents pointing out "the ducks" to their kids and when I excitedly explained that they were not ducks but loons, I got blank stares in return. Yet every kids' comedy show uses the loon's cry to denote wilderness, even if it is supposed to be a waterless desert. I once heard a loon call at the ranch in the "Dallas" TV show. Even the BBC uses loon calls inappropriately; in "Hound of the Baskervilles" for example.