Rescue at Mercer

In many ways, I was dreading the call. After three weeks of frantic training and two more of new team members beginning to find their way around the study area and become fully comfortable with our techniques, we were finally in a groove. But it was an early morning groove — the kind where you get up at four, hit your first lake at five, and finish eight hours later, dragging yourself home bleary-eyed, overheated, and definitely not stoked about entering your day’s observations in the database.

When Linda called to ask for my help in capturing a loon that was thoroughly entangled in monofilament line, I felt strongly that I should go. The loon was certain to die without our help. Even if it continued to elude the constant harassment and attacks of the territorial pair, the bird would suffer damage to its wing muscles over time. Furthermore, it was bound to have serious injuries that were not evident from the grainy photo we had seen. But Linda’s plan was to try to net the bird at night. I had not seen a sunset in six weeks!

“Okay, I’ll be there in 45 minutes”, I told her. “Will I fall asleep at the wheel?”, I wondered. I cranked up Coldplay’s Viva La Vida and sang along too loudly as I drove north to Mercer Lake.

Feeling only slightly gauzy, I reached the landing and set out with Linda and Kevin on the lake’s northwest end. Luckily they had done the heavy lifting by finding the bird and tracking it as darkness fell. The entangled individual sat almost motionless where the lake meets a dense marsh.

Had I been a bit more on the ball, we would have caught the bird in a flash, as it did not start to dive until our boat was within a meter or two. But I missed….twice. “Not used to the boat….net is awfully heavy and shallow….the electric motor is in my way”, I grumbled, half to myself. Linda and Kevin were patient, though, and the bird fortunately returned to the fringe of the marsh, following my misses. Given a third chance, I was finally able to net the impacted loon, and we proceeded to shore.

An inspection on shore revealed that the monofilament was wound tightly around its tail and wing and had damaged those feathers badly. A later x-ray showed a hook buried deeply in the loon’s chest, which we had known nothing about.

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Despite its injuries, the prognosis seems pretty good for this bird. First of all, it is still physically strong, as we learned during capture. It is now being cared for at Raptor Education Group and will be held another day or so until the hook can be removed and its feathers recover their normal shape. I have banded it so that we can track it after release and monitor its recovery. 

Coldplay got me home safely at about midnight. My body was not sure what tricks I was playing on it, but I eventually fell asleep and slept in — until 6:30. Ughh, I thought. I have lost my early-morning groove. But I smiled to think that I had helped give a doomed loon a new lease on life.