Before we get to a discussion of loons, which are worthwhile animals, it is necessary to again mention another category.
That is because on Sunday, while discussing the traumatic (to humans and other innocent creatures) dining habits of pit bulls, I lumped People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals with the deranged animal rights outfits that lobby against "breed specific legislation," enacted to deal with dogs bred to be vicious.
PETA may have some positions I consider extreme, but that organization, in fact, "supports banning the further breeding of pit bulls," as stated on the PETA website. "PETA isn't out to pull any pit bulls out of any good home. What we want to do is prevent any more litters."
That certainly is more reasonable than some PETA pursuits, such as an insistence that the U.S. Constitution's 13th Amendment applies to animals, which means domestication represents illegal slavery. (Your children consume milk? They are abetting the crime of involuntary servitude!)
Anyway, Sunday's error was pointed out during the course of the deluge of calls and letters that always occurs whenever I mention a breed of animal that has no worthwhile characteristics whatsoever.
That, fortunately, brings us back to the week's news about admirable animals.
At least eight loons, it was reported in The Morning Call on Tuesday, were rescued after landing on parking lots and other surfaces they apparently thought were waterways. Loons can take off only from water, using a long and laborious process of wing-flapping and water-slapping with their feet. So they were stranded, and some needed medical treatment for asphalt-induced scrapes before they were released to the region's rivers.
If you do not adequately appreciate loons, rush to a video store and get a copy of "On Golden Pond," in which Ethel (played by Katharine Hepburn) quaveringly yells at her tottering husband (Henry Fonda), "Come here, Norman. Hurry up. The loons! The loons! They're welcoming us back."
This was as Ethel and Norman returned to their summer retirement home on a New Hampshire lake, and there, on the water, were those wonderful birds and their enchanting mating call — a haunting yodel.
Before that movie, my family took a vacation in Canada at my uncle's cottage on a little island in a lake, where loons abounded, and we've loved them ever since.
Anyway, the birds stranded in this area are red-throated loons, which look and sound a little different from the common loons loved so much by Ethel and Norman (and me). But loons are loons when it comes to takeoff and landing. So why are they crash-landing on our parking lots?
Sue Gallagher of the Carbon County Environmental Education Center was quoted as saying this: "It does seem like a huge coincidence for us all to be taking in this same species at exactly the same time."
For some additional insights, I consulted Scott Weidensaul, the author of more than two dozen books on wildlife, including "Living on the Wind," a 1999 book on migratory birds that was one of three finalists for a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
Weidensaul and I worked at The Pottsville Republican newspaper in the 1980s, and it was he who first got me interested in the wonderful Hawk Mountain Sanctuary near the juncture of Lehigh, Schuylkill and Berks counties. Migrating hawks and eagles soar almost effortlessly for hundreds of miles by using the updrafts hitting Kittatinny Ridge (Blue Mountain) and Hawk Mountain is a great place to watch them.
Migrating loons, however, do not use the updrafts. They do not follow ridges, Weidensaul said, because their small wings are no good for gliding, so they must flap them constantly to stay aloft, very high in the sky and at speeds of up to 70 mph.
The loons' northward migrations can start as early as February, and he said it's likely that last week's weather caused some icing on their wings, the way aircraft can be affected by bad weather, and that forced them down for unscheduled stops.
"I can pretty much guarantee they thought they were landing on water," Weidensaul said. That's because of the way the lights of parking lots reflect off the asphalt. "They plane down and glide along on the water" when they land normally. Also, he said they need 40 yards or more of water to take off. "Their wings are just barely big enough to get them in the air."
Weidensaul said that once aloft, loons travel tremendous distances. "Some of them were born on some tundra pond" in northern Canada and migrate as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. "It is entirely genetically programmed," he said of the migratory routes that help them find feeding areas (they dive underwater to catch fish) they never have seen before.
Most of the loons seen in Pennsylvania, he said, are common loons or the red-throated birds stranded this past week in the Lehigh Valley region. "The call of the red-throated loon is not nearly as enchanting as that of the common loon," he said. Instead of a yodel, it's a steady wail.
Still, all loons are noble creatures and it's a shame some got banged up and lost in the Lehigh Valley region. Maybe PETA will lobby for laws that force everybody to turn off their lights at parking lots.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.