A studio for bird study

Tag: gavia

Pacific Loon, a Load of Feathers

by Bryce W. Robinson


I’ve seen Pacific Loon in all states of plumage. I’ve always been impressed by a loons looks, but this summer I had the chance to get very close to many Pacific Loons, and really gain an appreciation for their feather composition.

I think that most consider tropical birds to be among the most decorated, and striking in plumage. Colors that come from the tropical regions of the world are truly unique, but I consider some birds of the northern hemisphere to be equally exotic, and equally striking.

The Pacific Loon in full breeding plumage is breathtaking. At close proximity, you notice the velvet appearance of the throat, and its iridescent qualities enhanced. Purple, on an Arctic bird, is awe inspiring. The ghostly grey of the head and nape always leaves me mesmerized. I think that the numerous, dense, and fine quality of the feathers gives the bird a shape and form unlike any other feathered creature. In fact, the form does not even seem feathered at all.

The patterns of the loon are of note, as they are unlike any pattern I’ve ever seen in a creature. The fine lines and stripes are neat, organized, and crisp. This sharp appearance matches well with the behaviors of the bird. It holds its head high, glances about with confidence, and dives with absolute grace. In fact, the regality of the Pacific Loon impresses me, as I admire all creatures who frequent this world in confidence and style.

In winter, it interests me that the bird seems more sleek, and thin. I’ve yet to get close to a wintering Pacific Loon. When I do, I hope to study the difference in feathers and shape, and compare and contrast the two looks of the same bird. It fascinates me, that evolutionarily, two molts have evolved for this bird, and the two resulting plumages are dramatically different.

I can’t explain my fascination with the bird any further. As I’m scheduled to frequent the Arctic summer again for the next two years, I’ll be seeing breeding loons once more. At every opportunity, I’ll record the behaviors and appearance of each individual, and communicate their beauty the best I can. As I’ll be in Western Alaska, there is a great chance I’ll happen upon the Arctic Loon. It will be fascinating to compare my images between the Arctic and the Pacific, two birds that are very similar. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see what comes about, but when it does, I’ll be sharing.



A Mid-summer Arctic Midnight with Yellow-billed Loons

by Bryce W. Robinson

For those that forget, it never gets dark in the arctic during summer. The result is a night full of spectacular light for photography, if the skies are clear.

A few days ago, my friend Heather found a pair of Yellow-billed Loons thirty miles south of Prudhoe Bay. I have been hoping for this particular loon ever since I arrived on the tundra, while keeping in mind that it was likely I would never see one. They prefer areas farther west, with more lakes and less oil workers. Like minds, I guess.

Lucky me, to have a friend like Heather, checking areas that I’ve been unable to make it to lately. I only have a week left here, so the loon’s timeliness cannot be overstated. My friends and I made some time last night to make a trip to the loons, hoping they stayed put for the day. In my mind, if I came away empty handed, the midnight sun would provide great photo opportunities with other birds as well.

Too bad the night was full of dramatic rain clouds, letting the sunlight through only in pieces. Too bad for photography, but not for my spirit. It was a perfect night, with near perfect temperatures, and loads of mosquitoes.

Anyway, the photography for the evening was a bust, but the loons were at the pond waiting for us! I’m not sure how to communicate my experience with the birds. Life birds, as birders term the first sight of a bird in their lifetime, can be the most incredible experience, but some leave you wanting. Some birds, for whatever reason, have been a bit anti-climactic for me. Not the Yellow-billed Loon. Perhaps the scenery contributed to the experience, but I must say that my first Yellow-billed Loons exceeded expectations.

The Yellow-billed Loon is in my top ten for the best life bird experiences I’ve had over my years of birding. The night smelled of tundra wildflowers and arctic rain. I laid myself on the edge of the pond for a spell of time, and filmed the birds. Today, my body itches from the hoards of mosquitoes that had their feast on my blood, but the experience was worth the itch. The birds forgot me, and soon drifted close, acting naturally, and providing me not only with some footage, but with a feeling of peace and joy in experiencing an emblematic life of the Arctic Coastal Plain.

Although the light was poor, I am very happy with the footage. I film these birds to share with those who love them as much as myself, but really I film them selfishly, to capture the moment so that I can watch them in years to come, and revisit the feeling of laying on the edge of a tundra pond, watching a pair of Yellow-billed Loons conduct their business.