In the last days of March, Nancy and I unloaded a small raft from our truck at the Anderson County Park canoe dock one-half mile from our house. This was no ordinary raft. It bore a title: The U.S.S. Gavia. A floating nesting platform intended to attract the attention of a pair of loons.

Gavia is the genus for the common loon. The word “loon” is thought to be derived from an old Scandinavian word, lom, meaning a clumsy person. While loons are graceful swimmers and powerful and direct in flight, they are clumsy on land. Their legs are positioned well to the rear of the bird’s body. This placement makes them superior divers but awkward shufflers on land.

The ice on Horseleg Lake had been off for a week. Now, at water’s edge, we busied ourselves in last minute touches such as tying anchor ropes to opposite corners of the four-foot by four-foot platform.

We are hopeful that a pair of loons will find it homey. The lake has mostly undisturbed shoreline, no outboard motor traffic, and most importantly, populations of minnows for loons to feed on.

The haunting yodels of tundra swans interrupted our work. We scanned the sky for the birds. On they came, high overhead in a ragged “V” moving steadily northwest. These birds have a long ways to go before they can nest in northern Canada.

We tied the floating platform to a rope fastened to the stern of our canoe. Slowly we towed the U.S.S. Gavia to its berth, some two hundred yards distant.

We were barely underway when we heard the familiar yodel of a loon. It was the first loon call of the spring. The call came from Horseshoe Lake, a short hike south. We took the vocalization as a good omen.

Does the distant bird spy the fruits of our labor? Is it pleased? Does it feel a spike in breeding hormones when it spies the floating bedroom? Unlike grebes and many species of waterfowl that copulate on water, loons mate on land.

It’s early for the loons to come back but with the shortening of winters, I shouldn’t be surprised. Open water by the end of March just might be the new norm.

It took us ten minutes to tow the Gavia into position. We stopped offshore of the park observation tower where visitors will have a good view without being too close to taunt or disturb any nesting birds.

The pair of anchors sank into the clear water and through the swirling jungle of aquatic vegetation. We spread a layer of old shoreline vegetation and a chunk of hummock over the top of the raft to make it look like a wee island. I tried to get a small chunk of earth with a two-foot alder seedling but the swamp ground was frozen rock hard.

Suddenly from the north came excited honking from a pair of Canada geese. Ten yards above the water they approached us. For a moment they even set their wings into a glide. It looked as if they wanted to immediately claim the faux terra firma before any common loon could inspect it.

The pair of geese swung over us and landed a couple hundred yards away and continued their noisy honking. We quickly departed and paddled back to the dock.

Attention loons, geese, loafing turtles and muskrats: The U.S.S. Gavia is open for business.


photos by Steve Kingsbury

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