Loons Lost and Found

(Our short story about nature recovering from development won the Frontenac Arch Biosphere story contest last year)

We thought the new Mitchell Creek Bridge would be a disaster for the loons: and it was.  But like all dark clouds the silver lining finally showed through.

Within a week of the bridge’s completion, someone had cleared fallen trees from the creek’s channel to facilitate faster, bigger, boats.  Then the loons came, as they do every year. That year, however, the higher waves from the larger boats washed them off their nest. There were no chicks that season nor for the next four years.

Then a crack of light shone through in the form of a radio report on loon recovery.  Humans were building floating platforms so that nests could ride over a boat’s wake. A quick internet search turned up a variety of cleaver raft designs from the rustic (four cedar logs nailed together) to the high tech (aluminum frames with a roof and ramps).

But would a nesting platform  work on Mitchell Creek?  All of the plans called for the rafts to be 30 meters from shore which would put the nest somewhere in the woods, on the other side of the creek. Yet the loons had successfully nested on the creek for at least two decades, if not millennia. Luckily, they had not paid attention to our definition of a “best loon nesting site.”

Their chosen nesting location had been on top of a specific muskrat push-up in a marshy bay.  The water here is a meter deep, not the three meters supposedly required for a loon nest. However, it is close to the only pool in the river which might make 3 meters of depth in a very wet spring.  If it was good enough for the loons, it was good enough to try a loon raft.

As luck would have, felled cedars were among the leftovers from recently cleared hydro lines. A day’s work in the crisp fall air (one of the truly wonderful times near Frontenac Provincial Park) was all it took to build a sturdy cedar log square with a galvanized chicken wire bottom.

The platform was towed into place and canoes full of swamp muck, bulrush mats and motley native sedge cuttings were packed between the logs.  It was hard to imagine how all the pieces would survive the first good wind let alone attract any self-respecting loons.

The next spring the loons, ever hopeful, arrived on the creek.  Then they were gone.  But instead of disappearing they were on the nest.  And they stayed.  In the midst of one wild wind storm we watched the raft, with loon abroad, calmly riding the waves.

Near the end of June, after weeks of silence, we were woken in the middle of the night by loud, joyous loon calls.  A five-thirty a.m. paddle found two tiny chicks bobbing in the water with their parents as the sun’s light broke through the trees on the eastern shore of Mitchell Creek.

About Ross Sutherland

nurse, researcher, public health care activist, councillor South Frontenac Township
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