ALTHOUGH I’VE READ several books about loons, a couple of them gloriously illustrated, Journey with the Loon strikes me as the most scientifically informed and appropriately illustrated study of loons I’ve ever experienced.
David C. Evers is the executive director, founder, and chief scientist of the Biodiversity Research Institute and has been studying loons since 1987; his wife, Kate M. Taylor, has worked with loons since 1995 and before joining BRI worked for twelve years overseeing the scientifi c program for the Loon Preservation Committee in New Hampshire.
Evers and Taylor have done the yeoman work, and then some, and they write with a casual, relaxed style that not only delivers a wealth of information about loons, but also shapes it into a compelling narrative, a sort of natural history of the loons’ life cycle. They start the book with an overview of the loon’s distribution and population status, briefly sketching the conservation and reintroduction efforts underway across North America.
They divide the text into four chapters, one for each season, and each begins with a beautiful map-graphic of North America that indicates the loons’ summer and winter ranges, with arrows indicating migratory routes and a sidebar noting viewing hot spots for each season. Having lived in New York City for many years and spending a lot of time winter birding along the Atlantic coast I can attest to the accuracy of some of the winter hot spots for observing loons.
The better part of the book consists of sequential series of spectacular photographs documenting the annual life cycle of loons, with the text consisting of very long captions and asides. The summer chapter, for example, has a page describing the loons’ habitat and another describing their language. The rest of the chapter consists primarily of photographs, most of them depicting the development of young loons, from eggs to subadults. The photos progress from an adult manipulating an egg in the nest to a pipped egg with a chick’s head emerging to a subadult exercising its wings.
In addition to the usual adorable photos of loon chicks hitching a ride on their parents’ backs, the summer chapter features a remarkable series of images of loon chicks from their first week of life through their fourteenth, with each photo captioned in a sequenced narrative of development. This series of images is the finest representation of loon development I’ve seen, and the captions point out such subtleties as the appearance of smooth contour feathers, flapping and stretching behaviors, and takeoff practice runs. The synergy of text and images, here and elsewhere in the book, is absolutely uncanny, as though the authors asked the photographers if they could possibly get an image of a five-week-old loon with flight feathers starting to appear along the leading edge of its wings, and they delivered the image.
The authors chose the very wise strategy of letting the photos tell the story, and using their sparse text to parse the visual pyrotechnics, with the result that even a complete neophyte can learn the needs and life cycles of loons and fall absolutely in love with their haunting, otherworldly beauty.
The photographers, Ginger Poleschook and Daniel Poleschook Jr., have obviously spent enormous amounts of time photographing loons, at all hours of the day in all sorts of weather, and their work stands as a luminous, reverent testimony to a profound love of nature. When I scratched my head trying to figure out which came first, the photographs or the text, I felt my lips click in a smile as I realized they must certainly have evolved together in a charmed collaboration.
The book ends with a beautifully illustrated section about conservation initiatives and what readers can do to improve the lives of loons. There is an annotated list of organizations working on loon conservation, including our own BRI Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
A chart of loon populations in North America notes an extremely positive trajectory in New York.
And there’s more: the book comes with a DVD, also divided into seasons, that features some breathtaking footage of loons by several videographers, some of whom must have been treading water as they shot. Very calm and mellow, New Agey piano music accompanies the videos, which make a lovely footnote to a beautiful and informative study of loons.