A serene sunrise paddle on Duck Lake in Traverse City took a looney turn for writer Kandace Chapple. Dive in for her unwanted stand-up paddleboard adventure and explore Northern Michigan Loon safety tips to ensure your next paddle goes off without a hitch.
If you would like to survive a sunrise stand- up paddle with loons, please heed the following advice.
One morning in August, I got up early and took my SUP down to Duck Lake, parking at the boat launch at Interlochen State Park. It was a beautiful, serene dawn; something I had been hoping for. I had worked up my nerve to SUP alone for the first time. I wanted the full experience- a quiet, untouched, still morning to myself.
Even with my leash and life jacket on, I decided to stay close to shore, paddling in shallow water at all times. As I launched, I reassured myself that there were no monsters in Michigan waters that could get me. Right? We’ll see.
At first, things were going along quite nicely. I was getting braver and steadier on my new board, starting to get, shall I admit, cocky. Look at me go!
Next, I spotted three loons up ahead by a little point in the lake. I was thrilled—a mom, dad and baby. Wow! This was the life!
I paddled along the shore, swinging a bit wider around them, admiring them playing in the weeds.
Then, as I passed, one of the adults started a long, waver- ing call. I was even more thrilled to see the loons doing their thing. However, I would later learn that this is called a “tremolo”—the sound a loon uses when alarmed … or about to go to battle with a SUP board.
At this point, I was actually admiring the gusto of the call. That is, until one of the adult loons dove underwater. When the bird did not resurface for several minutes, I got my first inkling of the trouble I was in. I searched the surface of the lake frantically; where did that loon go?
Suddenly, I knew.
The Killer Loon surfaced on the far side of my SUP board. It had gone under me.
Within a split second, the other adult loon surfaced on the near side of my board. I was surrounded! This is when I learned how to sprint on a board.
Related Read: Don’t Miss this Summer Cycling Trip Through Scenic Ludington.
Because loons don’t have hollow bones like most birds, they are (killer) underwater swimmers, capable of traveling 200 yards in five minutes. I’m guessing I was 199 yards out because there is no way I was close enough to be a threat. But I didn’t get a chance to check on that.
Gone was my serene paddle. Instead, I was now in a fight for my life. Both loons were pursuing me—flapping their wings at me and tremolo-ing. (The baby was doing backflips in the weeds oblivious to the panic underway at its expense).
I paddled like I’d never paddled before. On cue, clouds blew over the sun, the wind picked up in my face and I looked down to see I’d sprinted into a swath of tall seaweed. I panicked. The only thing worse than death by loons? Death by seaweed.
Within a few minutes, it was over. The loons let up, and I found myself way over my head, headed into the middle of the lake, with rain threatening, and far, far from my quiet little dawn paddle of serenity.
I’m happy to report that I survived. And my advice? If you ever hear a loon calling ahead of you, turn that raft around.
Kandace Chapple is a freelance writer and owner of Michigan Girl, an event planning business. She can be reached at kandacechapple.com.
Related Read: Open-Water Swimming in Northern Michigan is Epic & Beautiful.
Nothern Michigan Loon Safety Tips
Stay at least 100 feet from loons or from shorelines to avoid accidentally scaring a loon off its nest (or inviting it over to your paddleboard).
If loons give a warning tremolo call, or rise up and flap their wings, move away. (Do not be impressed and wait around for the rest of the show like I did.)
Loons can have a wingspan of close to 5 feet, weigh up to 17 pounds and adults can be 3 feet in length.
Loons live 20-30 years and are territorial, returning annually to the same lake to breed.
Loons walk clumsily on land; that’s how they got their name. They are unable to walk easily on land because their legs are located far back on their bodies—the same feature that makes them lightning-fast swimmers.
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