Learn about the life and times of Washington’s not-so-common loon

The Okanogan Highlands is a great place to view a most charismatic and endearing bird species.

Illustration by Diana Weddle
Jack, the Nature Detective, learns about Loons in the fifth Highlands Wonders Podcast.

Illustration by Diana Weddle Jack, the Nature Detective, learns about Loons in the fifth Highlands Wonders Podcast.

Who would have thought that our very own Okanogan Highlands is a great place to view one of the world’s most charismatic and endearing bird species? Although not many common loons nest in Washington any more (you’ll have to listen to find out why), breeding pairs and chicks can be found on several highland lakes throughout the summer months and into the fall.

This month’s Highland Wonders Podcast features Daniel and Ginger Poleschook – dedicated researchers, educators and advocates for common loons. They share what they have learned over 26 years of studying the species and getting to know the individual loons that inhabit our local lakes.

Jack, Nature Detective, Season 1, Episode 5: The Not-So-Common Loon

One warm spring day out on Bonaparte Lake, Jack the Nature Detective is fishing with his dad. Suddenly he hears a strange noise, “It sounds like a cross between a wolf’s howl and a chicken’s squawk.”

Jack squints across the lake and he can’t believe what he is seeing! It’s a…a…penguin? It’s a very large bird, anyway and black and white. What else could it be? Jack keeps watching. The bird is swimming around like a duck and keeps diving under water in a very penguin-like way. Jack is puzzled, though. He wonders aloud, “I thought that penguins live on the bottom of the globe, and we live closer to the top. If this is a penguin, it is very far from home. How could this be?”

From that day on, Jack watches his mystery bird friends often. There are two of them. He notices that they are good fisher-birds, and that they built a nest on a grassy tuft on the edge of the lake. One early summer day Jack sees something especially amazing. “Look!” he shouts. “One of the birds is carrying a fuzzy little baby on its back!” All of a sudden, the bird starts (what can only be described as) yodeling. She sounds scared and upset. Jack looks up and sees a bald eagle soaring above the lake. As the bald eagle is about to dive, Jack’s mom wades out into the lake waving her arms and yelling, “Hey! Get away!” The eagle moves on and the mama and baby glide away.

By this time, Jack is pretty sure this amazing bird is not a penguin, but he is still not sure what it could be. He decides, “It’s time to get to the bottom of this mystery.” Back at home, Jack gets to work with his favorite bird book, The Sibley Field Guide (it has, in the Nature Detective’s opinion, the best pictures). Soon Jack realizes that that his hunch was right – the mystery bird isn’t a penguin at all. It is a bird called the common loon! Now that he knows who they are, the Nature Detective can’t wait to learn more! Fortunately, the newest Highland Wonders Podcast is out, featuring Daniel and Ginger Poleschook, so Jack and everyone he knows can learn about common loons and what we all can do to protect them.

Stay tuned! Jack will continue to solve nature mysteries on topics related to upcoming episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast. Episodes and stories can be found at: okanoganhighlands.org/education/highland-wonders/ or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.