Waiting for loon tunes
No sound characterizes the Bearskin Lodge experience more definitively than the call of a loon. A quote from a blurb for the Duluth Kiwanis Club, which is offering a stay at Bearskin Lodge as an auction item this weekend, illustrates how integral a loon call is to a Bearskin visit. Kiwanis Club member (and Bearskin guest) Grant Nelson wrote this about staying at Bearskin Lodge:
Imagine waking up in your own private cabin on the border of the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area. You walk outside, breathing deeply in the crisp morning air, and as you listen, you hear loons singing their melodious chorus. Meandering down a short trail, you reach your own private dock and for a long moment, take in the awesome beauty of East Bearskin Lake.
Our guests come here for the seclusion and quiet, but in reality, guests don’t actually want complete quiet. They want the silence to be broken up occasionally by a beautiful loon tremolo. We’ve all learned to listen for that sound when we’re here.
Our unexpectedly early spring has presented us with ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors this April. We’re hiking and canoeing at Bearskin right now like we normally would be in late May. It’s just a little too quiet, though – the loon songs are missing.
You can’t blame the loons for failing to arrive on ‘ice out” day April 3rd. Last year loons showed up in early May when East Bearskin was still covered with ice. We watched them circle the lake, futilely searching for a safe landing spot, probably wondering why they didn’t vacation oceanside a little longer.
We thought we saw loons on East Bearskin several times this month, but each time it’s been a black and white loon imposter. The Golden Eye Ducks were the first to arrive. From far away they can resemble a loon, but don’t have quite the right size, shape, or swimming style to fool an observer for long. More of a party bird than loons, Golden Eyes tend to hang out in the bay with throngs of their duck buddies.
Groups of Buffleheads were everywhere on East Bearskin for about a week, zooming crazily around and around the lodge. Buffleheads have hyperactivity issues. They just can’t sit still on the lake; they have to fly off chasing friends until late at night. When we first caught sight of a Bufflehead flying past the lodge, the distinctive black and white markings left us wondering if we’d just spotted a little, overly flappy loon. After the 1000th flyby, though, we quit even noticing. Loons have more sense than to fly in circles around the lodge all evening.
The arrival of Mergansers a couple days later almost fooled us again. In spite of their very distinctive punky hairstyles, the beak and neck of a Merganser bear some resemblance to a loon in silhouette. When they’re not trying to attract the opposite sex with fancy dance moves, the Mergansers have a subdued, solitary swimming style that more resembles loon behavior. And they do make noises, but Merganser sounds might be called more of a croak than a “melodious chorus.”
So every day we watch the lake for the black and white bird that will provide us with loon songs. We’ve been keeping track of loon migration at Journey North. Loons have been in the Twin Cities for awhile now, and showed up in the Duluth area last week. Andy heard loons yesterday on Seagull Lake. It won’t be long until we hear loon tunes again here. When the loons are singing their songs again on East Bearskin, maybe we can finally quit wondering when the next snowstorm is going to hit and accept that it really has turned into a beautiful spring on the Gunflint Trail!