The Loon Report – Tales from the sanctuary

Our pieces so far on the Penny Papers have been old archive stories, this is a more recent piece from events of this week!
Living and working on a wildlife sanctuary has its perks. It has a lot of shit that goes with the job too, such as 11pm finishes followed by 4am starts, having no social life and being on call 24hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But mostly, apart from some extreme horrors (normally caused by people – not the wildlife) the days I focus on are the good ones.
Today was a good day, but first I will give you a little background information that led up to this fabulous event. It began a couple of weeks ago, when my other half blasted into the kitchen, all water and wellies, and announced there was a cormorant that had just been dropped off in the hospital for me to look at. But to quote him “It’s a bit dainty looking”.
His interest immediately piqued, my father George took himself off to the hospital, with me in tow and announced with great glee that this was in fact not a cormorant, but a loon, a Northern Diver. To our American and Canadian friends, this is nothing special, but to our sanctuary this was a first in 35 years.
As it turns out, I am the seabird lady (and hedgehog lady, deer handler, red squirrel maneuverer, badger wrangler and otter tamer…) and was given this precious bird to care for. Great. The pressure always ramps up when it’s a rare one.
I examined the loon, he had massive bruising to his feet, legs, and chest and two missing toe nails where he had landed at full speed on the wet tarmac of a country road believing it to be a river. He was also very quiet, too quiet.
I administered some treatment for the injuries and left him tucked in warm with a few fish in a dish overnight.
The following day was a whole new ball game. He hadn’t eaten and was beginning to dehydrate. I never reach for the tube feeder straight away – it stresses the birds too much so I thought I would have a go at persuading him to take a fish from me. This involves tapping the beak with a soggy fish and often the bird will take it from you.
Yeah… I am quick, but this little bird was like a weasel on speed. He spotted the fish, and the long tweezers the fish were held in (I am not stupid), and bypassed both and struck me right in the middle of my hand with the speed of a cobra and a beak apparently made of steel.
Two hours later I had regained feeling in all but two of my fingers (who needs the little ones anyway?) And was ready for round two. Fish, Tweezers and leather welding gloves. See him peck me now!
He did. He bypassed the fish and the tweezers and the gloves and went straight for the most succulent part he could see. The right eyeball. The luck of whichever deity watches out for me (possibly the god of fools) was holding and thankfully and I managed to avoid partial blindness!
I abandoned fish, loon and equipment and later returned only to find he had eaten the fish and thrown the equipment out of the cage.
Part of his treatment to reduce the swelling in his legs and chest was cool water soaks. He was too sick to put outdoors so I thought I would pop him in the shower unit in a tub. ‘Thought’ being the operative word here, it was like trying to bath a greasy cat that had learned to fence. He wouldn’t go in the tub. I was voraciously pecked, stabbed, crapped on, and flapped in the face every day for a week. As he got better his aim improved and it truly was like holding onto a snake by the tail. I deal with gannets, herons, cormorants, black back gulls almost daily but I have never had anything with such an evil sense of humour as this species. He seemed to know where to stab at to cause the most amusement for onlookers, targeting face, bingo wings and boobs alternately.
This saga continued when he went outside to the rehabilitation diving pool. In addition to the stabbing insults he decided it would be funny to not be caught when it was time for treatment. The loon had a haunting cry, like an excited owl, which he would employ and then dive under water. The first time he did this Glenn and I were trying to fish him out of the pool and he disappeared underwater. We waited for him to resurface, he did not. We waited some more, he was a diver after all, he knows his stuff… We waited and then gave in to panic. “Get the bloody net, he must be stuck!”
“Where is he?”
“I can’t see him!”
Suddenly, a periscope like loon head popped up, hooted, looked around for a split second and then plopped back under again. We started breathing again and watched. The periscope reappeared and disappeared several times before he deemed it safe enough to resurface. At this point we felt he was ready to go home.
We packed him up in a box, after a few stabbings and set off to the beach for high tide. I paddled into the water with him and set him off into the waves. He was struggling and ready to go as soon as he heard the water. He foundered slightly and then like the surfer his was born to be, rode the waves out to see and away back to his life without us, hooting as he went.
Today was a good day.
A true story… If you want to see him, check out his video on our facebook page.

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