By Jeffrey B. Roth
Last Wednesday, about 6:30 p.m., my daughter, Britt, 37, who is visiting from Gettysburg, Pa., and I were heading home from Bangor, a few hours after I had received my second series of weekly allergy injections.
I decided to take the shortcut from Holden to Blue Hill, via Dedham, to avoid evening commuter/tourist traffic on U.S. 1.
A few minutes after we turned onto Masthill Road, en route to Upper Falls Road, I noticed a loon sitting in the weeds just off road. We assumed it had been injured. At the urging of my daughter, I turned my Wrangler around, returned to the spot where we spotted the loon and flipped on the four-ways.
Fortunately, there was very little traffic on that section of the road. My daughter grabbed her hooded sweatshirt, hopped out and approached the loon. It attempted to get away and only managed to hobble/wing-flop its way about 20 feet, before my daughter dropped her hoodie, like a net, over the obviously injured bird.
Surreal aptly describes our experience of the next hour and a half, as I drove, then stopped to make frantic mobile calls for help with the wounded creature. After three or four calls to area wildlife and bird sanctuaries, only to listen to after hour recordings, it became apparent that no timely assistance would be available to assist us with our unanticipated and highly annoyed hitchhiker.
Sitting in the passenger seat, Britt held the large, thrashing adult loon, which was struggling viciously to get free from its captor, webbed feet pumping from beneath the hoodie, its head, neck and menacing, black, 4-5-inch-long, needle-nose plier-like beak, free of the hoodie, fiery eyes ablaze with fear; it pounded its neck and head against her shoulder and head.
Its blood-red eyes, occasionally covered by the horizontal opening and closing of its third eyelid, a protective nictitating membrane, reminded me of the primal, carnivorous, intelligent gaze of the raptors featured in the “Jurassic Park” movies — primitive, wild and ferocious. Unafraid and unruffled, my daughter talked and cooed to the 15-plus-pound bird, as she stroked its muscular neck.
After 5 to 10 minutes, the loon’s frantic movements were less and less violent. It became calm and lay its head on Britt’s shoulder.
When Britt had first encountered the large water bird, up close and personal, she noticed some blood, but not a large amount. Its struggles seemed to indicate that neither its wings nor its legs were broken. We thought it may have been grazed by a vehicle, an assumption that later was proven wrong.
I pulled to the side of the road, just prior to returning to Route 1, at Dysart’s, Holden, to update my wife, Elisabeth, an RN, who was just leaving the Brewer assisted living facility where she works, and to attempt another call to a wildlife sanctuary for advice as to where to transport the wounded loon. After several rings, a recorded voice announced that no one would be available to return calls until the facility opened in the morning.
“Place the wounded bird in a padded cardboard box,” the voice calmly directed. I laughed out loud, relayed the advice to Britt, and asked: “So where is the closest distributor of large, padded, cardboard boxes for injured loons? I don’t imagine the pet store in Ellsworth would have any in stock. Do you?” Britt chuckled as well.
Finally, I knew where to go: the Maine State Police station, Troop J, Ellsworth.
In a little more than a half-hour, I pulled into the parking lot of the station; told Britt I’d be right back, walked to the front entrance, where I encountered a sign that stated the station was not a 24/7 facility. I shook my head as I walked back toward the Jeep.
To my great joy and relief, a young, uniformed officer, Trooper Gavin Endre, who had been in the side employee parking lot, had noticed us as we pulled into the station. It was apparent that he was a bit surprised and bemused by what he encountered when he approached the passenger door and saw Britt and her new friend.
Trooper Endre made a call and told us someone from the Maine Warden Service would be arriving within 15-20 minutes. We waited as I used my mobile phone to take photos and a short video of Britt and the loon.
Both Britt and I were thrilled when the warden drove into the parking lot, with animal transport cages visible in the bed of the large pickup. Game Warden Eric Rudolph donned a heavy pair of gloves to take the loon, still entrapped within the hoodie and my olive-green rain slicker jacket. It was a relief for Britt and for me to see that the loon was in capable hands.
Warden Rudolph said that when dealing with loons, he first attempts to grab the bird’s beak to immobilize it. “Loons go for the eyes,” Rudolph said.
After securing the bird in a cage for transport, the warden said he was impressed that the bird seemed so calm while being held by my daughter. At the time, I was wearing my “Press” credentials, because prior to my allergy appointment, I had completed an assignment for another publication.
I mentioned that I planned to contact The Ellsworth American to see if the editor may be interested in an account of our loony Wednesday. Warden Rudolph provided me with his card. The loon, he said, was being taken to Acadia Wildlife Center, where Anne Rivers, founder of the wildlife rescue facility would attempt to diagnose the injuries the loon had suffered. He promised to call me with a condition update.
On Saturday morning, Warden Rudolph called my home. Unfortunately, the loon had died. While there were not apparent external injuries, the loon had likely suffered severe internal injuries.
Loons are waterbirds and do not land or take flight from the ground. Water is their native habitat, for which, they are highly adapted.
On occasion, loons will misidentify a wet road or see a heat mirage that appears like water on the surface of a roadway and they come in and belly-flop hard on the surface, Rudolph explained. The impact can cause serious internal injuries, Rudolph added.
Anne Rivers confirmed that it is not unusual for loons to suffer fatal injuries when they mistake a roadway for a stream or river. The loon, which Britt called Lucky, was not very lucky in the end.
Trooper Endre, Warden Rudolph and Anne Rivers are all dedicated, compassionate and knowledgeable professionals. They are to be commended. Britt and I were lucky to have encountered them during our loony Wednesday in Ellsworth.