For three years running I had a feud with the loons. We battled one another for my swimming space in front of the cabin, and invariably the loons won. With their fancy dances and alarmist yodeling, they drove me away. Away from swimming my laps. Away from their young chicks. Unseen but undoubtedly nearby in their nest.
I never did figure out where that nest was. But in loon logic it was too close for comfort. Too close to let a swimming human any closer.
By now I have been well trained. Starting each July, I scan the water for loons before pushing off from the dock. I double check the area as I near the widening in the reeds. The loon parents have radar and will speed in from the middle of the lake to fend off my advances. But not this year.
So far I have yet to encounter a single loon while swimming. Sadly, I know it means they have no chicks. Or perhaps they have moved their nest further afield. I hope it is the latter.
This morning a loon pair float into my space as I begin my swim. Hesitantly I breaststroke, keeping my head above water, my eyes trained on the loons. They remain calm. Floating, dipping their heads in the water, looking for fish. I try shouting to drive them away, but they ignore my silly cries, only giving a mild yodel to acknowledge my presence. So I swim on.
This is nothing like the protective threats of yore, which instilled a healthy fear and retreat. I know not to cross that line. But this feels different. I engage full lap swimming mode, crossing from one side of the reeds to the other and back again in a strong front crawl. Without the line in the bottom of a swimming pool, my laps tend to stray off course, so I steal looks now and again to make sure I am not veering closer to the loons. Still they float nonchalantly, willing to share the space.
Underneath my minor victory lies a good dose of discomfort. They are still wild birds, after all, and unpredictable. I head for shore while I’m still ahead on this round. I send my loon friends a silent thanks for their company and forbearance. For letting me swim with them.
Next year the feud may resume. I do want their chicks to survive. Just not near my swimming spot. I would miss my loon swimming companions.
All photos by Rich Hoeg, 365DaysOfBirds.com
Note: The telephoto lens makes the loons appear closer to me than they really were – they were about 5 yards away.
Every summer when I was young, my family would vacation on Bluegill Lake in Gordon, Wisconsin, and loons were always a part of life on the lake. We spent hours watching them and listening to their calls. Loved your story.