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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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May 19, 2019

5/11/2019 7:30:00 AM
Natural Reaction
Opening day distractions
Jacob Friede
Of The Lakeland Times

To my surprise, the boat launch was empty when I arrived at Clear Lake early last Saturday morning, and it was so quiet. There was not the slightest breeze to cause a bit of noise or nudge a ripple across the water. The darkness and silence of outer space had settled upon the lake and, as I rowed my boat through the thin, misty haze hovering above the water, it could not have been more apparent that I was alone.

That was until I heard the cry of a loon cut through the quiet morning. Its sorrowful song, so full of volume it whirled through my ears like strong wind, ricocheted off the water and echoed off the shoreline and shattered all silence in between.

The tremulous wails that rang out in response were equally impressive, and proof of a loon's power to perform a symphony with a single call.

The birds were somewhere out in the darkness, adding to their mystique, though they must've been close enough to sense me as their cries were full of alarm.

For almost two hours, every 15 minutes, I was treated to a dazzling duet. The loons, all the while, were unseen and it seemed like the lake, itself, was singing.

Then I started hearing the pitter-patter of their penguin dance defensive display. Loons dance across the water when they sense danger or competition, flapping their wings close to their body rapidly, while running, as if preparing for takeoff. With these frantic sprints they try to frighten their enemies, of which I figured I was number one on their list, though we had yet to meet face to face. I had no clue where they were, the direction of their calls kept changing. They were a challenge to pinpoint.

Then the sun peered over the shoreline pines and poured color upon the lake. The water turned the fresh blue of clear sky after days and days of cloud cover, and out of the fiery reflection of the sunrise off the lake the pair of loons appeared. Less than 30 yards away, swimming side by side, they seemed more curious than cautious.

Doused in dawn's light, their chessboard plumage changed into a checkerboard. All their white feathers were lit up like flames of red as bright as their eyes, which I looked right into as the they stared me down before casually diving underwater. Then they disappeared, for well over five minutes, before resurfacing about 100 yards away, which is an amazing feat that exemplifies how no bird has lungs like a loon.

The mystery that remained to me was, after all their territorial tactics, why they were so nonchalant when they finally encountered me.

Then I looked up and realized I had not been the threat. Or if I was, I was secondary.

A bald eagle had just taken flight from its perch on a dead shoreline tree. As it soared through the sunlight its white head appeared as bright as the last bit of lake ice.

The loons again started wailing and singing and dancing until the eagle carried on across the lake. With peace at last they resumed fishing, and I figured I'd do the same, though I knew it'd be tough to top the sounds and sites I had already caught.

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.







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