Little Guy: Colo on the Maine Coast

Guest post by our friend and expert birder, AW.

COLO 1740 starts the next stage of life on Penobscot Bay on the Maine coast. / © Terry Heitz
COLO 1740 starts the next stage of life on Penobscot Bay on the Maine coast. / © Terry Heitz

What is your favorite bird? Perhaps there can be no answer. Birding is a passion, encompassing all species, with opportunities to appreciate many behaviors and much beauty. Hearing the flute-like song of a Veery is enchanting. Seeing Northern Flicker heads (with Michael Nesmith sideburns) protrude from a nesting cavity before daring to fledge surely seems comical. Witnessing a Merlin grab fast food on the fly is definitely shocking. These are only a few of the simple pleasures we chance to experience, and I myself don’t rank levels of joy in birding. Until now.

This lost loon I helped to rescue, referred to as “Little Guy,” has trumped all birding experiences for me. This bird will forever be my all-time favorite. But before you read any further, it’s time to let go of this name,” Little Guy.” Attaching a name to a wild animal connotes pet-status, or ownership. At the time of the rescue however, it seemed fitting to call this orphan by an endearing name, as a way to express the significance of the loon’s ordeal.  At Avian Haven, the chick has been designated by a more formal moniker: COLO 1740 Brighton VT. I will now refer to the loon as Colo.

Colo has literally outgrown the name, “Little Guy.” All traces of natal down are gone and the bird now sports sleek and crisp feathers in the first set of adult plumage. SPLENDID BEAUTY! When glancing at the updated pictures sent from Avian Haven, it’s hard to believe we are seeing the same loon. Please excuse the Grandma-like cliché, but: “They grow up so fast!”

Here is a recent email from Diane Winn of Avian Haven from September 7th:

She is quite the little pistol – as you can see, she still has some downy fuzz on her head, but she’s now quite waterproof and has become an accomplished diver. She’s in the company of another young loon with eye damage caused by an eagle grab; the prognosis for that one remains uncertain, but meanwhile, they are good companions. They share our large pool, and each day, we take them to a pond on the property for outdoor “enrichment sessions.”

And from a post of Facebook on September 10:

She is currently devouring about 25 capelin a day and is so excited about them that she practically jumps out of the pool when she sees us coming!

After the loon parents lost this chick, it has taken more than one village to raise it. The bird’s promising future is the result of a chain of actions spanning from Vermont to Maine. Visiting the North East Kingdom from Huntington, Vermont, I was lucky to have found Colo. VCE’s Loon Conservation Biologist Eric Hanson provided essential skills to best care for the loon. Eric passed the baton off by delivering Colo to rehabber Kappy Sprenger in Bridgton, Maine. Next, Kappy linked the responsibility from Eric to Avian Haven Directors, Marc Payne and Diane Winn. With their dedicated staff in Freedom, Maine, Colo’s return to a free and wild life (as an uncommon loon) has been ensured after six weeks of nurturing care.  May this wandering chick from Brighton, Vermont, have a bright future and a long, long life.

Within minutes of being released, COLO 1740 caught a crab for his/her first ocean snack. / © Terry Heitz
Within minutes of being released, COLO 1740 caught a crab for a first ocean snack. / © Terry Heitz

A final Facebook post from Avian Haven on September 29 lets us all say farewell:

Young Common Loon, released in Penobscot Bay on September 28, swam off with barely a glance back and explored the release cove extensively. We saw her take many long dives, surfacing from one with what looked like a clam in her beak. From another, she came up with a crab. Evidently she was enjoying a more varied menu than had been available at Avian Haven!

To end this blog series, which includes a progress report, I’ll share a poem I wrote years ago as a tribute to a beloved young friend.

The Loon

In beautiful, breeding plumage
Your devoted parents
Create you,
And from the moment of your being
They will remain
Committed to you,
Precious egg,
While you grow into yourself.

This precarious nest
In which you lay
On the edge of the shore
Clings with prayers of no flooding storms
That may cause hopes to drown.
For this is where you must be
While becoming you
Finding your place in the world.

Your loving parents
Are there for you always
Although you can only ride
Protected on their strong backs for a little while
Before you must fend for yourself,
Take the plunge,
Trust your wings,
Navigate by the stars.

Your heavy bones
Allow you to dive
Deep to the bottom of dark waters
Where you eventually find nourishment
But also the poisons
Of broken lures
Left unintentionally for you
Vulnerable in your innocence.

And one day, Autumn will be upon you
And instinct will have spoken.
And now you’ll know
You cannot stay
On this pond or in this place.
It’s time to migrate
To places unknown.
So, lift off this pond you call home
And pray that the water way
Is long enough
For you to gather the momentum
To lift up,
To the next adventure ahead.

And know….
I will always hear
Your beautiful song
Calling late in the night
Reaching out to me
Far in the distance.
I hear you and love you
Because distance
Never means you’re forgotten
And love never ends
But travels through time
No matter how far
Or long
Or difficult the journey.

Thank you for following this poster-child wayward loon’s story and please support wildlife programs in whatever way possible.

This post ©2015 by A. Wagner, birder, citizen scientist and educator. Used by permission. It also appears in a slightly different form, at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies blog.

The first chapter in our Little Guy mini-saga appeared on our blog August 21, 2015. The Rescue Update appeared August 28.
Another post by AW appears our blog: Expert birder pwned by 4-year old

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