NORDEGG, Alta. – This is a story about one lucky loon.
Don Gibson was standing with his family on a dock in Fish Lake Provincial Park in west-central Alberta last weekend when he noticed a normally standoffish loon — one of a group of five that call the lake home — swimming toward them.
“I said, ‘There’s no way that’s a real loon because they don’t come that close,'” Gibson recalled Friday from his home in Sundre, northwest of Calgary.
“I said, ‘Somebody’s out in the woods playing a trick on us. They’ve got a remote-control bird or something.'”
But as the loon got closer, Gibson could tell it needed help.
A piece of fishing gear with wire leaders and multiple hooks, often referred to as a pickerel rig, had become tangled around the bird’s bill, neck and leg.
Loons are sleek and rely on their diving ability to catch fish, frogs and other water creatures. Seeing the way this one was tangled, it was clear to Gibson that it couldn’t hunt.
The bird kept looking up at the campers on the dock and moved to a shallow area along the shore.
“This one just knew he only had another day and he was going to die. He was just right pooped I think.”
Gibson turned to his 12-year-old son.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to go over there. This thing just sent us a sign that he’s in distress and he wants us to help him.'”
Gibson was leery about the loon’s sharp beak, but the bird lowered its head and allowed him to give it a stroke.
“When he allowed me to pat his head, I said, ‘That’s it. I am taking my shoes off and I’m going in and I am going to help this guy, because he was obviously not afraid of me.'”
Gibson’s wife enlisted the help of a park attendant who had some scissors and they started cutting away the tackle. A hook caught in the back of the bird’s neck came out easily. Gibson then picked up the bird and unwound the line that was wrapped three or four times around its leg.
By then, a fairly large crowd had gathered to watch the rescue.
Gibson put the freed bird back in the water.
As it swam out from shore to rejoin its buddies, it turned back, lifted itself up in the water and gave a flap of its wings as if to say thank you, he said.
“You couldn’t write a fiction novel so perfect.”
Gibson said he saw the five loons feeding on minnows in the lake the next day, so he figures everything worked out fine.
“I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it myself. He knew exactly what he was doing. It was incredible.”
— By Tim Cook in Edmonton