“Norman it’s the loons. Listen they are welcoming us back.” 

After reading H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s eloquent book about training a goshawk when she is mourning the death of her father, and then J.A. Baker’s beautifully written book The Peregrine, I have become fascinated by raptors, wanting to learn more about their characteristics, habitats, and their migrations.

 When I learned that Eric Masterson was speaking at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, I planned a visit, even though I was going to miss his presentation. Eric left on a bicycle from his home in Hancock, New Hampshire on September 5, 2016, to follow and observe the hawk migration along the way, ending his journey in Kekoldi, Costa Rica in February 2017.

In the Raptor Exhibition at the Science Center, there can be red-tailed hawks, great-horned owls, bald eagles and turkey vultures, mostly rescue birds.  I was there just after an attendant left a few dead rodents for two handsome bald eagles.  Probably knowing they were being watched, they made their way delicately, in carefully choreographed movements, to the lifeless white creatures snatching them in their beaks, before carrying them to higher branches and tearing apart the corpse to ingest the flesh. 

It was a beautiful morning and after walking on one of the trails that meander around the Science Center, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to join the late morning Squam Lake Cruise. The energetic captain of the pontoon boat, with comfortable benches along both sides, delivered ongoing commentary about Squam beginning, just as we were leaving the dock, with stories about the filming and production of On Golden Pond

 On Golden Pond, features Henry Fonda as Norman, Katherine Hepburn as Ethel, Jane Fonda, as their only daughter, Chelsea, and Doug McKeon as Billy Ray, the young son of Chelsea’s beau who is left with the elderly couple during the summer. The film was released in December 1981 and opens with an exquisite close up of loons over piano music by the American composer Robert David Grusin.

It has been years since I watched the movie and I had forgotten just how enchanting and poignant a film it is, touching on the delicate balances and issues within families, the frailties of aging and the disconnect that can occur between generations.  On Golden Pond was nominated for Academy Awards in several categories, and while the loons didn’t receive any recognition, they play a leading role.

One of the reasons to take the cruise around Squam is to learn about the loons. The commentary stops when there is a sighting. One of the many islands on the lake – and there are 35 – is inhabited by a woman who so loves the loons she stays away when she learns a loon with her young chicks might be disrupted by a boat coming and going if she is there. At various points in the lake, bobbing in the water near the shore, are signs that warn boaters to proceed slowly to avoid the diving loons when they are underwater.

 What you also learn is that between 2005 and 2007, Squam Lake “experienced an unprecedented decline in its loon population, followed by the near-complete reproductive failure of its remaining loons.”  An effort is underway by the Loon Preservation Committee to bring back the loon population, including setting up floating nests so the loons are not vulnerable to predators and flooding.

Birds have, according to Jennifer Ackerman “extraordinary abilities or skills – technical, social, musical, artistic, spatial, inventive, adaptive.” (The Genius of Birds, Penguin Books, 2016).

Imagine a world without birds soaring above our heads and serenading us with their music?

 “Norman it’s the loons. Listen they are welcoming us back.” 

     Ethel, (Katherine Hepburn) in On Golden Pond 

The Squam Lake Natural Science Center – www.nhnature.org

Eric Masterson – www.ericmasterson.com

The Loon Preservation Committee – www.loon.org

The Squam Lake Loon Initiative

Elizabeth Howard is an author and journalist.  Her books include:  Ned O’Gorman: A Glance Back, a book she edited (Easton Studio Press, 2015), A Day with Bonefish Joe (David R.Godine, 2015), Queen Anne’s Lace and Wild Blackberry Pie, (Thornwillow Press, 2011). She lives in New York City and has a home in Laconia.  You can send her a note at:  Elizabeth@laconiadailysun.com

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