Team rescues stranded loon from frozen Skiff Lake

When it comes to rescuing a baby loon in a small pool of water, all you really need is a kayak, a fishing net and a soaring heart.

'If we hadn't got there, then I'm afraid that animal would have been dead today,' says local rescuer

A loon was rescued on Skiff Lake more than a week ago, placed in a dog crate and taken to Fredericton, where the Atlantic Wildlife Institute took over its emergency care. (Submitted)

When it comes to rescuing a baby loon in a small pool of water, all you really need is a kayak, a fishing net and a soaring heart.

A group of residents ventured out on Skiff Lake, about 100 kilometres west of Fredericton, more than a week ago to rescue a baby loon stranded in a pool of water surrounded by frozen ice.

"This animal, it was doomed," Bob Winslow, who initiated the rescue, said Monday.

But as freezing temperatures and strong winds settled into the area last month, Winslow noticed a lone bird trapped in a small pool of water surrounded by ice.

"I couldn't stand to have this animal frozen into the lake or eaten by eagles or coyotes," he said from his home on Skiff Lake.

I couldn't sleep at night listening to the loon calls. To hear that over and over and over … and it was getting fainter.-Bob Winslow , Skiff Lake

"If we hadn't got there then I'm afraid that animal would have been dead today."

Winslow's home sits lakeside, and he often marvels at the wildlife in the area. 

He particularly likes to keep an eye on the loons in Skiff Lake, making sure boats don't get too close and eagles don't get too hungry for the small birds.

"I couldn't sleep at night listening to the loon calls. To hear that over and over and over … and it was getting fainter. I know that animal didn't eat for the six days that went on."  

Winslow said they asked the Department of Energy and Resource Development for help but were told an employee`s life couldn't be risked to save the loon.

Risking his life

The loon had suffered a few scrapes and bruises but didn't have any broken bones. (Atlantic Wildlife Institute)

Eventually, the friends took matters into their own hands and set out on a mission to rescue the bird.

One friend, Gar Conklin, grabbed his kayak and a fishing net and set out on the frozen lake. He straddled the vessel in case the ice broke underneath before he reached the loon, which was almost a kilometre from land. The friends also kept an aluminum boat on hand during the rescue mission.

"The animal didn't want him around at all," Winslow said.

"It kept diving down and coming up. [Conklin] timed just perfectly, so that when it came up for air, he grabbed it, scooped it up, put it in the kayak and straddled his kayak again back to shore."

It took more than an hour. Once he got back to shore, Conklin received a few cheers and pats on the back from his friends.

"I really kind of think he risked his life to get this thing," Winslow said. "It was amazing what he did."

The group put the loon into a small dog kennel and drove it to Fredericton, where the Atlantic Wildlife Institute took the bird under its wing.

Something you see on TV

Pam Novak, director of the wildlife charity, which provides emergency care to injured and orphaned animals, applauded the Skiff Lake team for what she described as "an ice rescue that you sometimes see on TV."

"They took it upon themselves to get this bird before it was too late," she said.

Novak said loons are designed to dive and swim underwater. Because their bodies are so heavy, loons can't run or lift themselves along hard surfaces. 

As a result, Novak said, loons need a few hundred metres of open water to use as their runway, which this bird didn't have.

"The ice was just coming closer and closer to where this bird was," she said. "At this point there was no way the loon was going to get out by himself."

The wildlife charity released the bird on the Northumberland Strait, where it can spend the winter. (Atlantic Wildlife Institute )

At the Atlantic Wildlife Institute, east of Moncton, staff found the loon suffered a few scrapes and bruises but didn't have any broken bones.

After a week of care, Novak said, the bird was showing signs of recovery. It was perkier and aggressive at times and able to use its legs and wings properly.

This past weekend the loon was released on the Northumberland Strait, where it can spend the winter months, as many other loons do, the institute said.

With files from Shift