Seeley Swan Pathfinder
May 13, 1999
by Colleen Nicholson
for the Pathfinder
The month of May means different things to different species - for us humans, it's the month with Mother's Day, graduations, and garden planting. For the Common Loon, it's the month to migrate from their wintering spots in the South back to a select few lakes in Western Montana. Then begins their serious business of nesting and raising baby chicks. In 1997 there were nine documented mating pairs of loon in the Seeley-Swan Valley. Wildlife biologist Lynn Kelly will soon be back in our area to check on this year's visitors, and mark nesting sites.
We are fortunate in Seeley Lake to have another connection with loons. Seven years ago, the Alpine Artisans held the first Loon and Fish Festival, beginning a tradition of Memorial Weekend activities focused on our local environment, and providing a place for local artists to sell their work. This year's Festival will take place Saturday and Sunday, May 29th and 30th at the Community Hall. There will be an opportunity to learn more about potential loon nesting sites on Seeley and Placid Lakes, plus guided bird watching walks.
Local artists will have their artwork for sale, and be giving a variety of demonstrations: Peggy Lattin, cattle marker art; Cindy Torok, rug hooking; Charles Grant, boatmaking; Mark Kopenhafer, clay sculpture; Little Bird, clay workings; Tree Frog, didgeridoo construction; and Joe Bender, fly casting. A complete schedule of events will appear in The Pathfinder the week of the Festival. T shirts, designed this year by Rick Sherman, are for sale at the Stage Station, Seeley Lake Pharmacy, Good Times Video and Double Arrow Lodge, and will also be sold at the Festival. A full size bed quilt with a loon motif, made by Kathy Titus, is the featured raffle prize item and will be displayed at the Quilt Store. Tickets are available from Alpine Artisan members, at local stores, and at the Festival.
In an upcoming issue of The Pathfinder, Donna Love, will share some research from the book she is currently writing on loons. Her Girl Scout Troop will present a short play on loons at the Festival both days, and she is organizing a children's hands-on art corner for a mid-day activity on Saturday and Sunday.
For more information on loons, stop by the Seeley Lake Forest Service office for their pamphlet, or get the paperback book, Loon Magic, by Tom Klein. This book has some amazing close-up photographs of newly-hatched loons, adults 'water dancing', and chicks riding on a parent's back. For web browsers, check out gmnphotography.com for access to sites that have an updated loon spotting and migration map - and even hear three different loon calls!
Henry David Thoreau had this to say about loons, in 1854, from his observations at Walden Pond, Massachusetts:
"The loon uttered a long-drawn, unearthly howl, probably more like that of a wolf than any other bird; as when a beast puts its muzzle to the ground and deliberately howls. This was his looning, perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard here, making the woods ring far and wide."
Humans can be the worst enemies of young loons during May and June. Let's all do our best to keep our lakes ringing with their wonderful sound by using wise boating practices during these next weeks. Keep at least 200 yards away from a nest site and do not approach adults or chicks that you see swimming. Loon nests are usually in grass along the shoreline, and their 'nursery area' is nearby in protected shallow water. Because loons need privacy to raise their chicks, if we observe and appreciate them from a safe distance now, we'll have them back again next May.