Loony Rescue

By Cindy Ellis

The accurate name for a singular bird is “Common Loon,” but that fascinating flyer is not often seen by many here in West Virginia.  Most sightings have been recorded during spring and fall migration.  In late April, one lucky/unlucky loon found itself in a tricky situation at Hinkle Lake near Bridgeport in Harrison County.  

Birders noticed the bird had flown over the dam to a smaller impoundment.  Now, its anatomy was a problem.  The legs of loons are positioned quite far back on their bodies.  This makes for superior swimming and diving…but not for water surface take-offs.  They must have quite a bit of distance to gain propulsion and lift off.  So, the Bridgeport loon had moved to a bit of water too small to accommodate its wish to take off and fly.

A flurry of concerned messages flew and birders rounded up help.  One person assisting was West Virginia Highlands Conservancy board member Randy Kesling.  The concrete sides of most of the small pond allowed rescuers to herd the bird without the use of a boat.  It was gently corralled and covered with a towel, then moved to the larger lake with the assistance of a careful and helpful bystander. Additionally, a fish hook was removed from the webbing in one foot.  The bird seemed to be resting in the larger lake, and, no doubt, was able to resume its northern flight.

We asked Randy, who is also affiliated with Trout Unlimited, a few questions about the rescue.  

1.       How did your Master Naturalist experience help with this situation?  

Spending time in the presence of wildlife (plants, animals, fungi, and protists) and taking the time to learn and appreciate how the species live, act, and interact in their environment are hallmarks of the West Virginia Master Naturalist Program (WVMNP). I have been involved in this program for several years, and, in that time, I have had many opportunities in the field and the classroom to learn from many knowledgeable professional and amateur naturalists.  I can’t dissect any particular knowledge or ability that the WVMNP has given to me that directly influenced the fate of this beautiful loon, but I do know that WVMNP has made a difference in my knowledge, my attitudes towards wildlife, and my observation skills.  There is hardly a better feeling than the gift of being able to help when situations like that of the loon happen.  

2.     Had you done such a rescue before? 

            I have never done anything like this with a large bird.  I have been up on Dolly Sods when they were banding the birds, and I have held and released them.  But this is the closest I have come to capturing a Loon until now.