Loons are iconic birds, a part of our summer memories.
Is there a better way to sharpen climate awareness than to say it could drive loons from Minnesota's lakes?
The front-page story in Saturday's Star Tribune revealed that the climate may become so warm that our loons may be forced to move north, seeking a cooler, better world.
The common loon, our state bird, is a large black-and-white waterbird that breeds on lakes in northern states, throughout Canada, in Greenland and parts of Scandinavia.
Englishmen, who see loons occasionally, call the bird the great northern diver. I think that's a much better name. It's a perfect fit.
Loons are one of the things we remember about being at the lake, in a hammock, in a canoe. Their calls hold us for a moment — and we listen. They yodel, hoot, wail and sing tremolos, best heard at night. Darkness adds to the mystery of their often haunting calls.
The name loon likely derives from the Old English word lumme, meaning lummox or awkward person, or the Scandinavian word lum, meaning lame or clumsy.
And it's true that loons are awkward on shore. Their legs are set so far back on their bodies that movement on land is difficult. Swimming, though, propelled as if by a motor at the stern of a boat, defines their place in the world.
When my wife and I lived on the edge of a lake in the woods we were neighbors to a pair of loons. Sometimes in the evening, they would forage near our dock. We could hear them murmuring to each other, keeping in touch, a private conversation.
Loons also fly with sound effects. Heavy birds, they need sufficient airspeed to lift off from the water. No jumping into flight as some ducks do. Loons dash across the surface to gain speed, feet slapping, a telltale sound. Once the loons are airborne, the trail in the water disappears. The loon calls fade. Lingering is that special moment.
When loons are flying, their wings have an audible whir. I've had them swing around and fly over me, their stiff, rapid wing beats almost whistling.
We don't see loons all the time. That's one of the things that makes them special. They can be unexpected pleasure, something you find.
That can happen here, on metro lakes, particularly during migration.
Loons leave for their winter water (usually the Gulf of Mexico for birds that summer in the Midwest) late in the fall. They often wait until closing time, last call, when ice forces them to go.
They go south. And, in spring, they return. Unless, of course, rising temperatures force them farther north.
Read Jim Williams' birding blog at startribune.com/wingnut.