This morning, I paid a visit to the Sands Point Preserve, in between
visiting my wife at the hospital who is trying to recover from a very
serious surgery. I didn't expect to see much here in February but a Horned
Lark that dropped into the parking lot at 9:30 was completely unexpected at
this location.


Long Island Sound was fairly quiet with the usual Common Goldeneye and
Long-tailed Ducks, plus a few White-winged Scoters. Close to shore, I
spotted an obvious loon that immediately caught my attention as likely not
being a Common Loon (and certainly not a Red-throated Loon). The gizz was
altogether different than Common Loon. It was smaller, sleeker, and lower in
the water. The bill was straighter, less angular, and better proportioned
with the head than Common Loon. (I often compare the head shape of Common
Loons to the lumpy head of Linus from Peanuts..). At the time, the neck
appeared obviously two-toned, much darker in the back and I observed a
barely perceptible chin strap. The back of this bird was very dark. Overall,
this bird had a very smooth, efficient profile .


Its behavior made it very difficult to gather fine details, despite the
water being relatively calm. It would only stay on the surface for maybe 3-4
seconds before diving and this caused me to make the mistake of constantly
trying to view the chin strap instead of focusing on other finer details.
The dive duration was very long, on the order of 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. The
distance covered was remarkable. It would reappear at what seemed like
500-1000 feet away (those are subjective numbers) and that made it extremely
difficult to relocate the bird before it dived again. It's dive "geometry"
was also different than Common Loon, with a lurch (or as one website I
researched called it "neck-craning", something that Common Loons do not do).
There were 2 Common Loons in the area and their dive was indeed completely


After a long absence, I relocated it again but this time I couldn't find the
contrast between the side and back of head that I previously viewed (it now
appeared as a warmer darker brown in this different angle I was viewing, and
I couldn't get on the chin strap again. At this point, I revised my post to
loon, sp.

It dived again, and I lost it for good this time.


I still haven't decided to repost this bird as Pacific Loon or not, but
likely I will keep it as loon, sp. It would be great to here input from
other birders (especially on dive behavior) on this and to keep an eye out
in the western Sound in the near future.








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