[CT Birds] Pacific Loon details

Greg Hanisek ghanisek at rep-am.com
Tue Nov 10 23:12:27 EST 2009

Something to help you get a good night's sleep....


10 November 2009

Lake Quassapaug, Middlebury

Observer: Greg Hanisek

Description: A compact loon with a slender, straight bill and a smoothly rounded head. The head was darkest in the loral area and lightest on the rear crown. The face was dark from the lower loral area, through the eye and on the auriculars, so that the eye appeared to be almost surrounded by dark feathers. Only the very bottom of the eye appeared to touch the white of the lower half of the face.The rear crown and nape were extensively grayish in the center. The white of the foreneck was clearly and crisply demarcated from the hind neck along a straight line from the throat to the where the lower neck met the breast. When looking at the bird head-on, the white foreneck was bracketed by two perfectly parallel dark lines. The dark portion of the neck was darkest where it met the white foreneck and became paler toward the center of the rear neck, especially on the nape. There was a faint, broken line across the point where the neck met the breast, but during the best head-on views of the bird there was no sign of a chin strap.

When swimming in a relaxed manner, the head and necked showed a puffy aspect, giving the bird a rather thick-necked look in profile. This was also somewhat apparent in head-on views, with the darker rear parts of the neck bulging out somewhat on either side of the white foreneck. The neck and head shape changed noticeably just before the bird dived, as the crown was flattened and the neck thrust forward giving a thinner look just before it submerged.

The bird appeared brownish-gray on the back, scapulars, wings and tail. During the closest views the mantle feathers appeared uniformally marked with pale edges. The flanks were brownish-gray to the water line. Very little white showed near the waterline except when the bird rolled to preen. During these rolls it appeared that the vent might be dark, but it was hard to distinguish the vent area from the underside of the tail. 

The bird rose on the water a few times to spread its wings and flap. Because the wings were in motion it was hard to get a good handle on any markings. For one heart-stopping moment the bird took off and flew about 100 yards west, but then turned, flew back and hit the water after a low glide. During this foray, the legs appeared fairly short and the feet small. The bird was very active, swimming and diving throughout the observation.

I believe the bird was a juvenile based of the rather uniform pale edges to the mantle feathers, creating a scalloped look. The lack of a chin strap is also most often found in juvenile birds.

Similar species: Common Loon: The bird lacked this species' overall size and massive bill, bulging forehead, pale eye arcs and jagged aspect of the line where the white foreneck and dark hind neck meet. The pale nape was also atypical of Common Loon.

Red-throated Loon: The bird lacked this species' pale face and flanks, upturned bill and its generally thinner-necked appearance. Its rear neck was darkest where it met the white foreneck, opposite of the pattern on Red-throated. The smoothly rounded head differed from the shape of a Red-throated Loon head, which usually appears highest at the rear of the crown. A juvenile Red-throated, which could show smudgy darkness on the face, would have a more speckled or flecked back pattern, rather than the scalloped pattern shown by this bird. The facial darkness would be more irregular on a juvenile Red-throated.

Arctic Loon: The bird lacked the bold white "flank" patches that are actually the white upper half of the thighs on Arctic. Arctic also typically shows a heavier bill and more angular head than Pacific, and this bird appeared quite thin-billed and round-headed. 

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