Loons may be a symbol of northern Minnesota wilderness, but they may also be observed in North Dakota’s Turtle Mountains. The ice went off Lake Metigoshe a couple weeks ago, and within a few days of ice-out the loons arrived. They can be seen swimming around the lake sporadically all summer, but they are more commonly observed before Memorial Day and again after Labor Day. Loons don’t tolerate all the lake traffic during the time in between.
Few sounds stir our primordial spirits more than the call of loons. Along with timber wolves they have become the quintessential symbol of wilderness. Although few of us will ever hear the howl of a wolf, many of us have heard the call of the loon. Whether it is the riotous clamber or the mournful wail, loon calls stir our primordial souls. Perhaps Sigurd Olson in his book The Singing Wilderness said it best:
“Once years ago on the open reaches of Lac la Croix, I heard them under the light of a spring moon, a wild, blending harmony that has haunted me ever since.”
Sigurd Olson in The Singing Wilderness
Perhaps like you, I have had the privilege of hearing loons occasionally. However, hearing loons in the Turtle Mountains has an extra special meaning. They have managed to remain in the Turtle Mountains while in many parts of their range their populations have declined or are presumed extirpated. They are not very tolerant of human activity, so I am guardedly optimistic that they can raise their young on the many smaller, relatively unused lakes in the area. Lake Metigoshe, is far too busy. The biggest factor, however, it the sense if wildness they give to the area. An area with loons still has hope.
Loons, like Rodney Dangerfield, often get no respect. “Crazy as a loon” and “loony bin,” are common disparaging comments. But their status got a big lift in 1961 when Minnesota designated it their state bird. They really hit the big time in 1981 with their romantic symbolism of the love between Ethel (Katherine Hepburn) and Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) in “On Golden Pond.” Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda received Academy Awards for best actress and best actor for their efforts. They don’t have academy awards for best animal, but if they did the loons of Golden Pond would have easily flown away with it. And of course Canada has their one dollar coin, affectionately called the “loony”, and a loon is displayed on the Minnesota quarter.
Loons are not wide spread in North Dakota, but there are a few in the Turtle Mountains, Devils Lake area, and perhaps a few other areas. If you happen to be in an area with some loons, take the time to observe and enjoy these interesting birds.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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