Red-throated loons rescued after storm
Three migrating red-throated loons who were grounded during a snowstorm in eastern Essex and Clinton counties this weekend were rescued by staff at the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation and released safely onto Lake Champlain.
The calls started coming in on Sunday afternoon with a report of a loon grounded at Exit 38 on I-87, according to ACLC Executive Director Nina Schoch. This was “followed almost immediately” by a report of a second loon who had landed on a road in AuSable. And the third bird was found on Spruce Hill in Keene around midday on Monday.
Schoch said red-throated loons do not typically stay in the Adirondacks, but migrate through on their way from their summer breeding waters in northern Canada and western Greenland to their wintering areas along the Atlantic coast — primarily the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays.
She said ACLC rescue a grounded red-throated loon almost every winter, but she’s never had three come in in such a short amount of time. Schoch chalked this up to an “isolated storm … producing more than a foot of heavy wet snow over just a couple of hours in eastern Essex and Clinton counties.”
The cold wetness likely iced the loons wings, she said, causing them to land on the ground unnaturally.
“Sometimes in winter storms, loons, like planes, experience icing of their wings and are unable to continue flying, so they land on roads, fields and other unexpected places,” Schoch said in a statement.
Loons have “specialized anatomy,” she said. Because their legs are so far back on their bodies, making them good swimmers, they can only take off by running on long strips of water.
“Loons are rarely able to get airborne if they are grounded,” Schoch said in a statement.
Schoch, a wildlife veterinarian, examined all three birds. The first two had minor scrapes on their toes.
“But they were bright and alert and … aggressive,” Schoch said.
The third appeared to have tried to run on the pavement to attempt a takeoff, scraping its feet, slightly injuring itself. Once they were all deemed to be in good condition, they were were banded and released on Lake Champlain by ACLC staff. Schoch said the loons should definitely be able to continue their migration from there, with calm waters and an open lake not yet covered with ice.
Schoch said she is grateful to North Country Wild Care and the concerned citizens who found, reported and transported the first two downed loons, as well as an an old birding friend of hers, who reported the third loon.
She said to report a loon in distress, contact the ACLC by calling 518-354-8636 and emailing a photo of the loon to email@example.com.
“They are so cool,” Schoch said of the red-throated loons, which are much smaller than the common loons who summer on Adirondack lakes.
The rescue was also a treat for loon fans like herself and the ACLC staff.
“They are such beautiful, almost dainty loons,” Schoch said in a statement. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to see these northern birds when they fly through eastern New York.”
She said the red-throated loons’ winter plumage feature white necks instead of their eponymous red throats seen during the breeding season.
“Their scientific name ‘Gavia stellata’ reflects the pattern of starry ‘V’ shaped white flecks on their backs during the winter,” Schoch said in a statement. “Their vocalizations are quite different from those of common loons, producing a quacking and grunting noise instead of the wails and tremolos associated with the common loons.”
Schoch said ACLC believes the first two grounded loons were a male and female and the third was a male.