A loony drama

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Here’s a dramatic tale in which Safe Wings played a supporting role. Cynthia went to help with the rescue but she was too late!

Juvenile loon free to fly away again after Ottawa ice rescue

Megan Gillis, Ottawa Citizen

 

 

Between the Arctic where it was born this summer and the coastal waters where it will winter, a young red-throated loon stopped in Ottawa and got marooned on a frozen pond at Andrew Haydon Park on Sunday.

But thanks to the kindness of strangers and two local bird-rescue organizations, it was free and back on course again Monday.

“It was heartbreaking seeing it on the ice – it was trying to get into the water but it couldn’t,” said Andrew Anderson, one of a number of people who stopped to help.

“Loons are always mournful birds but it sounded extra-mournful.”

The young bird made plaintive cries and scrambled to take off but kept falling, unable to get a grip on the slick ice.

Soon, another bystander went to get heavy boots, a blanket and a duffle bag. Christine Lamothe shuffled across the ice, crooning softly, to rescue the bird as Guoqiang Xue documented the effort.

The bird was finally safe – although it gave Anderson a peck on the chin for his trouble – and was taken to the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre. Tired and stressed, it was examined, fed and housed overnight.

“It couldn’t get off the ice,” said Anouk Hoedeman, founder of Safe Wings Ottawa. “It was too slippery.

“It was exhausted. Young ones, who are not so great at flying, they can get trapped on ice.”

The smallest member of the loon family with the most northern range, the red-throated loon can take flight from land or water without a running start, unlike other loons, Hoedeman said. That’s what the youngster was trying to do on its way through Ottawa, where it’s a rare sight. The species’ long annual migration is from the Arctic, where it nests in tundra ponds, to its winter home along the Atlantic coast, from Maine to Florida.

The red-throated loon and its rescuers. GUOQIANG XUE

An examination showed that the bird was healthy and that its feathers had maintained their all-important waterproof coating. So on Monday, Hoedeman went to pick it up at the wild bird centre. The loon went into a crate in the back seat of her car.

Wearing gloves to protect the bird’s plumage, Hoedeman tipped its crate on a shallow boat ramp at the sailing club. Glimpsing the Ottawa River, it raised its pointed beak, hopped out and in a flash was in the water. There it dove, stretched its wings, dove again and soon was a speck on the horizon as Anderson, wild bird centre volunteer Susan Phillips and Hoedeman watched, relieved.

“I have tears in my eyes,” Hoedeman admitted. “You’re hoping it’s going to be okay. It makes all the effort worthwhile.”

Loon released at the Nepean Sailing Club by Anouk Hoedeman of Safe Wings, November 13, 2017.  JEAN LEVAC/ POSTMEDIA NEWS

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