We have all had experiences in life in which things didn't work out the way we had hoped. No matter how hard you try, you are still a step away from your goal. Then when you least expect it, the stars will align and life gives you a second chance.
This fall, I have spent hours peering through a scope sifting through thousands of waterfowl in hopes of identifying something unique and different. North Dakota is blessed with thousands of acres of wetlands and lakes, bringing in waterfowl of all shapes and sizes.
Loon are a favorite of many birders and non-birders alike. Common loons are regular on the state's larger bodies of water in October. Like a surfacing submarine, their large heads and bodies skulk low to the water keeping watch for danger before dipping under for another meal of fish.
Many also look for a smaller cousin from the West, aptly named Pacific loon. These birds look quite similar to a common loon, but sport a smaller bill, uniform dark back and uniform rounded hind-neck to forehead with a bright sharply defined white throat running down the front of the neck to the waterline.
The last of the family is the "mythical" red-throated loon. The smallest of the family, in summer they are a cool gray throughout, with a bright crimson throat and small red eye. Their smaller size, smaller head and thin, short upturned bill give them a snake-like appearance poking out of the water from a distance.
I describe them as mythical, because in my 25 years of birding, I have never had the experience of seeing one, let alone hearing of any observations in the state. Last fall, a veteran birder observed the red-throated loon at Lake Audubon, the first in three decades. This spring, another was found in the Grand Forks area. Then a few weeks ago, an individual spotted one at Bowman-Haley reservoir, which was later identified definitively after a video was distributed on the internet.
Needless to say, I was pretty bummed to miss these opportunities. Low and behold, last Friday night another report of my nemesis. This time at Lake Tschida, the presence of a red-throated loon was recorded with photos. I gathered up my gear and made an early morning drive west.
After searching the wind-swept lake for two hours, no loon was to be found. Disappointed, I turned my car for home. I quickly learned via text about a long-tailed duck, another rare species, was in the area so I turned back. However, this bird was a flyby, so a location was not known.
After systematically searching the east end for a third time, imagine my shock when I turned my scope to a shallow obscure bay to see a resting small gray loon, the red-throated loon. This find was particularly satisfying after years of waiting for a chance to see one in this state. After a short period of observation, the loon realized it had my company and dove its way out to the center of the choppy lake to stay safe and distant as loons do.
Enjoy your adventures; you never know what life will bring. Good things do come to those who wait.