Loons are the most iconic of all Adirondack creatures, even more than black bears. Regal, mysterious, smart and prickly, loons are most well known for their haunting calls and elusive behavior. You can hear some of the calls by clicking on the links here and here.
Loons definitely dislike humans, and their wary tolerance of a two-legged visitor with a camera even 50 yards away on shore is a true metaphor for the often-uneasy relationship between civilization and wilderness in the North Country. The loon will watch a visitor with that glowing red-eye look, and then without warning will dive beneath the surface of the water, perhaps gone for a long time, or resurfacing in seconds but a distance away. They are great underwater swimmers. Hatching just one or two chicks a year, they protect their young fiercely… and unlike some other waterfowl, the male loons stick around to help with feeding and protecting the family.
Protecting loon habitats, particularly nesting areas, is one of many important examples of effective wilderness management. Wildlife need the vast forests and lakes of the Adirondacks and similar places to thrive. Unlike the unspeakably pesky geese that have become an urban nuisance and brown ducks that have adapted to near-domestic life in many places, loons and other truly “wild” wildlife can only thrive in their natural habitat. Human behaviors — shoreline developments, powerboats, fishing lures, pollution, among others — are among the great threats to loons and other wildlife in the wilderness.
Understanding and respecting the needs of wild things ensures the health of civilization as well. I appreciate the need for some development — the roads and developments make it possible for me to come to the edge of the wilderness, to see the loons and other wild things at least from afar. Yet, when I sit on the deck and night and hear a loon call far up the lake, I hope that the rest of the shoreline will remain “forever wild” as it is today so that these beautiful creatures will always have this magnificent space as their own, first, with humans as visitors at a distance.