The Return of the Loons


I know it’s technically been spring now for a few weeks, but like many of you, I haven’t felt that it was actually springtime.  Wisconsin winters leave me skeptical about the return of warm weather and green landscapes. I don’t wait for the first robin to declare it spring. Nor do I base my seasons on the exodus and return of the fully spandex-clad cyclists on the paths and bike routes. No, I wait for the loons.  That probably sounds a bit…loony.  Loons in Madison?  Isn’t that a bit far south?  That’s what I first thought when I spotted my first loon on Lake Monona a few years ago on my morning commute.

Loon in Monona Bay

Loon in Monona Bay

I was under a lot of stress at the time, and attributed my sighting to my imagination. The next day, when a loon popped up just ten feet from the bike path and watched me pass, there was no denying it. Later in the week, I spotted around 20 loons in the lake and thought I was witnessing a miracle!  I took a break off the path and watched them dive into the sparkling water and pop up in new locations, again and again. It was mesmerizing.  Now I look forward to the loons’ return every spring and fall. After a bit of poking around on the internet, I found that their stop in Madison is actually part of their migration between northern lakes and the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean.

I often feel like the luckiest commuter.  My daily ride is through the UW-Arboretum, then along the Capital City trail hugging Monona Bay and Lake Monona. It is my favorite part of the day. I see a variety of wildlife on a routine basis, including red-winged blackbirds, turkeys who run rampant in the Arb and muskrats and ducks who play in the open water.

Red-winged blackbird

I love hearing the calls of the red-winged blackbirds as I ride through the Arboretum every morning.

Occasionally I’ll startle a deer or spot a bald eagle or sandhill crane.  It’s a bit of magic every morning as I notice new sights, sounds and smells as the seasons slowly change. This was even more true this year, as the addition of some studded tires allowed me to bike through the winter for the first time in Madison.  Riding year-round has made me even more appreciative of warmer days and the transition from my heavy winter bike to my much faster road bike. On a favorite bit of downhill in the middle of the Arboretum, I inhale and exhale deeply, and feel ready for the day.  The cool air fills my lungs, and I gain a sense of clarity and peace.

The luckiest commuter

I often feel like the luckiest commuter.

As an aside, the joy of witnessing so much nature on my commute wouldn’t have the same effect if my route was different. The entire length of my journey (6.3 miles, to be exact) either has a bike lane, is on a low-traffic road, or is on paved bike path.  Can you imagine how many more people might commute with similar bicycle routes?  Here at the Bike Fed, we’re working on making all cities more bike-friendly so more people feel comfortable choosing bicycling as part of their daily life.

Capital City Bike Path

I feel lucky to be able to ride on bike paths for most of my commute.

This morning on my way in, I noticed that all of the ice was gone from Monona Bay. I eagerly looked out at the diversity of waterfowl , hoping to glimpse the silhouette of a loon. To my glee, I spotted at least two pairs. As I rode on to Lake Monona, I noticed less ice than the day before.  Soon there will be fully open water for large groups of my favorite feathered friends to return on their migration back north. See you soon, loons.Lake Monona

The last of the ice on Lake Monona

I started this post last week.  As of last Thursday afternoon, Lake Monona is ice-free and already a temporary home to several pairs of loons. 

One thought on “The Return of the Loons

  1. This morning and yesterday morning I’ve heard loons from the southwest path. Either the loons were on Lake Wingra or airborne.

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