Unsolved (Murder?) Mysteries on the Canadian Border: The case of two loon disappearances

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Alert loons in search of an intruder. © Lorna Kane-Rohloff

Alert loons in search of an intruder. © Lorna Kane-Rohloff

Summer is often the time people head to the beach or hammock to read stories that take them away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. And this summer, even loons were part of the who-dunnit stories.

Beaver Pond at 55 acres is a 40 minute hike through the woods to the north of Holland Pond. The Canadian border is less than a quarter mile away. The trails nearby have been used for the illegal smuggling of goods; a few suspects have been caught, many not. The loons on Beaver Pond, oblivious to our human economics, have led a golden life hatching out chicks almost every year for 20 years, but this year things would become a little twisted.

A person from Derby called me to report two dead loons on the pond. Two?! I wondered what sort of foul play could have occurred and truly hoped that it was loon-related and not people. I contacted my amazing volunteer crew up there to see if they had any more information. Tom and Chris were waiting to go to Beaver for the annual count later in the week. I hiked into the pond and found one adult loon on the water. Using the stashed rowboat, I poked in and out of every nook and cranny looking for a flash of white. A thick algae had spread along much of the shallow water zones; I need to follow up on what this might be on this pristine pond. I checked the two islands but could not locate a nest. The water was down almost 18 inches from earlier in the summer (beaver dam changes?), and finding a nest would be difficult.

A second loon flew in. For the next thirty minutes, I observed the pursuer and the pursued; it’s obvious these two were not friends. There was no wing rowing or penguin dances, just continual diving and surfacing in this loon cat and mouse game. I was 80 percent around the pond with no sign of a loon body when a turkey vulture flew overhead. A sign? A few minutes later I spotted an out of place small white object in three feet of water. It looked stick like but different laying on the black mucky bottom…it’s a decomposing webbed foot and leg of a loon. That’s all there is, nothing else.

The pursued loon rushed across the water and took flight heading to calmer waters. I hiked out wondering about what could have occurred. A few days later, Tom reported that another Holland Pond resident visits Beaver Pond often for a hike and swim. He reported that he saw a chick in early July, but that it disappeared about the time of the report of the two dead loons. The pair was obviously being challenged or in flux with the territorial displays I observed. An intruder loon could have killed both an adult and the chick in a territorial takeover attempt. This seems like a plausible explanation, but we’ll never know for sure. The border is full of strange activities, some of which the border patrol agents will never know about.

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Comments (1)

  1. Alison Wagner says:

    Thanks Eric, for another Loon mystery. It seems likely that only nature played a role in this event, and somehow that makes it a little easier to accept! I wonder what will happen NEXT year!

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