Last evening, in the light of sunset two companions and I heard an odd,
muted voice of a waterfowl make one call from Lake Champlain just west
of the tip of Red Rocks Park in South Burlington. Gaining a viewing
point we saw, some 300 feet off shore, a mature Great Black-backed Gull
on the water being hassled by a first winter bird of the same species,
which was soon joined by a second winter bird.
With binocs we could see a floating, injured or dead duck, apparently a
Common Goldeneye, being pecked at and protected by the adult. The young
birds were making little progress in distracting the defending adult.
Shortly a Common Loon, 200-300 feet to the southeast at the mouth of
Shelburne Bay, appeared .... also watching the gulls. It dove, and in
just a few seconds the adult gull burst with no warning from the water
several feet in the air, fluttering and flapping; the youngsters backed
away and circled the momentary chaos. The loon surfaced right by the
duck, just where the gull had been. The loon soon sank away, and the
gull descended back toward its defending position, which it took as the
loon disappeared underwater.
Soon the loon appeared again at the surface maybe 40 feet away peering
intently at the gull and inert duck; meanwhile the young gulls resumed
their hassling of the adult. The loon dove and almost instantly again
attacked the adult gull from underwater; the gull leaping from the water
with great annoyance.
This routine continued repeatedly for many minutes, by which time the
second winter gull had had enough and flew away northward. A couple
more attacks by the loon and the first winter bird gave up and departed
in the closing darkness. As we continued our vigil, I heard the sound
of "whistlers", the duck hunter name for Goldeneyes, and three speeding
goldeneyes in a "missing man" echelon formation flew low over the scene
and disappeared into the twilight shadows to the south. After yet a
few more loon attacks, we tucked away the binocs, and left the scene
with the adult Great Black-backed Gull continuing to guard the carcass,
and the prowling loon continuing with its submarine attacks.