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Swimming with loons

I was out swimming with mask and snorkel, just cruising along looking at the bottom of the lake. I took a look up, and just 15 metres away I saw a loon looking back at me.

I was out swimming with mask and snorkel, just cruising along looking at the bottom of the lake. I took a look up, and just 15 metres away I saw a loon looking back at me. I thought it might be fun to watch the loon swimming from under water so I kept my course and moved in closer.

Every now and then I’d look above the water to see if she was still there. I’d take off the snorkel and give a little call. She looked at me with curiosity. I was about five meters away when she decided to dive – and she disappeared. Where did she go?

Our loons have always been friendly when we have been in the canoe – would she recognize me with my mask and snorkel? You don’t suppose she would sneak up on me and nip my toe? I felt very vulnerable.

I kept swimming (what else could I do?), looking above and below the water. There was no one in sight. I swam to a deadhead that sticks up a hundred meters from shore, looking around all the while, wondering where my loony friend had gone.

I stood on the log and it sank until just my head was above water. Looking around, I found my loon was just five metres to the left. I called what I think is a soothing call. She looked at me and said nothing. I called softly again. I only wish I knew what I was saying to her.

Loons are big, you know. As I sat helpless on my submerged log I wondered if loons have a clue as to how helpless humans are. Especially in the water.

Loons are at home in the water. They have solid, heavy bones so they can sink easily. They are strong, confident swimmers both on top and below the water.

I looked again through my mask, hoping to see her underwater as she floated there. I hoped she would swim by so I could watch her underwater. She didn’t dive, she didn’t get close enough for me to see her through the water.

She watched me for a while. The she leaned over and waved her foot. Just stretching? Slowly, she drifted away.

I swam back to shore, feeling we had gone our separate ways. Back at the dock I took off my mask then swam out a few strokes to feel the water on my face again. Looking up, there was my friend, just two meters away. She dipped her head in the water, perhaps looking for dinner (a small fish, I hoped!) I quickly went back to the dock to get my mask.

A second loon was now with the first. Hello!

They went right by as I put on the mask and snorkel. I swam out to join them, removing the snorkel to call once or twice. I was less than 2 metres away, admiring my friends from above and below the water’s surface. Suddenly one loon dived and the other took off on the surface of the water – yelling with surprise. I guess he didn’t recognized me with my mask on after all.

Twenty minutes later, I was working in the garden when I heard the loon just out front again. She and her mate had come back to finish their dinner.

(Update: Several loon pairs have successfully hatched chicks this summer. Give them plenty of space when boating, as the babies cannot dive yet.)

Viki Mather has been writing for Northern Life since the spring of 1984. During 2011, she takes us back to some of those older writings as she prepares to publish a book of ‘In the Bush’. This one was originally published in August 1990.


-Posted by Heather Green-Oliver