Sunday 20 November 2016

The Chin-strap Loon

In late May 2014 a Pacific Loon was discovered at St. Vincents Beach, Avalon Peninsula by Alvan Buckley. It was going into breeding plumage. We hoped it had wintered here with the many Common Loons that choose this area in winter. Sure enough it did come back for the winter of 2014/2015. St. Vincent's Beach is a tough place to watch loons. They are usually distant. There is no shelter at all anywhere that you can observe the loons from. You can't get anywhere near the edge of the beach for the salt spray. The car can not be parked in a good place to scan the water. There is always a big swell on. The beach faces south meaning you are staring into the sun all winter long, when there is a sun. The bottom line is that getting good views and photos is a challenge and luck. In fact what we have been satisfied with is still far from great and photo opts near impossible. 

Today I had better than average luck with the Pacific Loon. First of all it was great to know it is back. The loon flock was fishing and loafing in the area off Peters River that was the most sheltered part of St. Vincents Beach during gale force SE winds.  It was still 200 m away at its closest approach but the shots taken with 840 mm lens blown up to 100% show parts of the loon we rarely get to see even with the scope.  The chin strap was showing up unusually well today. Maybe it was more prominent early in the season than it will be later in the winter. Maybe it was because I was near sea level instead of being up a bluff looking down at the water.

Profile of the Pacific Loon showing characteristic puffy nape, rounded crown, straight bill (looking rather thin today), the smooth line of contrast between the dark neck and white throat and look at that chin strap. None of the other species of loon show this.  It is not always so easy to see.

The smooth snaky curve of the neck of the Pacific Loons adds grace to the bird.  A slight turn of the head and the chin strap disappears. Difficult to see in this photo but with scope a stripe on sides of the neck is slightly darker than the back of neck.  The back of neck of Pacific Loon is paler gray-black than the blackish back. You need good light or close view to detect this. On Common Loons in full winter plumage the back of neck is the darkest part of the bird - in good light looking darker than the back.  Warning this feature does not work outside of winter season.  Faded sub adult Common Loons in spring and summer can look quite bizarre including very pale necks.  

This all you need to confirm a Pacific Loon!

Chin strap.

More chin strap.

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