A casual evening bike ride around Diamond Point Park on Tuesday swiftly turned into a wildlife photoshoot after my husband and I spotted a pair of common loons swimming along the shoreline of Lake Bemidji.
Once we spotted the large, regal birds, I couldn’t bear to pass up the chance to get some photos of the gorgeous creatures. Thankfully we only live a few blocks from Diamond Point, so we booked it home to grab my camera and drove back to the park, hoping they hadn’t flown off in our absence.
We parked the car and rushed down to the shore. Meanwhile, about 100 yards from the beach, a group of loud teenagers made their way across the park and I was quite concerned that if the birds hadn’t already left the area they soon would with the amount of commotion happening nearby.
Loons are primarily water birds and generally only go ashore to mate and incubate their eggs. Their legs are placed far back on their bodies, which makes for efficient swimming but awkward movement on land. They are agile swimmers, but also move pretty fast in the air. According to All About Birds, migrating loons have been clocked flying at speeds more than 70 mph. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
We walked along the beach where we had last seen the loons but didn’t spot them right away. So, we went a little further down the shore and all of a sudden a black-headed creature popped up out of the water and greeted us with the familiar, eerie call of a loon.
Loons are well equipped for their submarine maneuvers to catch fish, according to All About Birds. Unlike most birds, loons have solid bones that make them less buoyant and better at diving. They can quickly blow air out of their lungs and flatten their feathers to expel air within their plumage, so they can dive quickly and swim fast underwater. Their extra body weight helps them dive as deep as 250 feet to search for food and they can stay underwater for up to five minutes. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
I've lived in Minnesota for 15 years, so it wasn't as though I'd never seen or heard a loon before. However, I recently purchased a new telephoto lens that is perfect for capturing birds from far away. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get some quality photos of our state bird.
Common loons typically breed on quiet, remote freshwater lakes in northern portions of the United States and Canada, as they are sensitive to human disturbance. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Common loons swim underwater to catch fish, propelling themselves with their feet. According to All About Birds, they swallow most of their prey underwater. The loon has sharp, rearward-pointing projections on the roof of its mouth and tongue that help it keep a firm hold on slippery fish. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
I spent 10 minutes or so following the lone loon along the shoreline and snapping some pictures when my husband noticed a second head pop up out of the water a little further down the beach. It appeared to have just been on an extended underwater fishing excursion without us noticing.
The two birds took their sweet time, but eventually joined one another near the “point” of the shoreline for which the park is named, and one began to show off just a bit and flapped its wings at us while the other continued to dive down into the water every minute or two in search of dinner.
Loons commonly perform a territorial display of lifting their body upright and flapping their wings vigorously when they sense someone or something invading their space. According to All About Birds, those who get too close to a loon may witness this display, along with a defensive tremolo call as the loon swims away. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Common loons are easy to spot during the summer months on lakes in the Northwoods. According to All About Birds, they stick out conspicuously as large, tuxedoed birds swimming about in the middle of the lake. They can be very vocal and easy to locate, as the yodeling of one loon will often elicit a chorus response from other loons in the area. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
After about an hour -- and a few hundred photos later -- we meandered away and left the loons to finish their evening meal in peace.
Annalise Braught is the editor and a photographer at the Pioneer. She can be reached at (218) 358-1990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.