Spring watch: loon

Drove down to the New Bedford end of the hurricane barrier, parked the car, and walked out. Low gray clouds, a stiff northerly breeze, a spattering of rain now and again. It was cold enough that I put my hood up and kept my gloves on; not a day to believe that spring is coming.

On my way back from the far end of the hurricane barrier, I stopped to look at a Common Loon in the water below me. It was quite close, close enough to see individual feathers through the binoculars. The loon was in the process of molting: the checkerboard pattern already clear on its back, the head becoming all black again as the white winter feathers on the throat came out. Soon the molt will be complete, and with its new set of feathers the loon will start to fly north, away from its wintering ground here in New Bedford harbor, to raise young loons on some lonesome lake in Canada. I could see, at least in imagination, the whole progress of spring written in the patchy feathers on its head.