Red-throated Loon swimming in Maine water.

“That loon looks weird,” I remarked to my mom. It certainly wasn’t the most eloquent phrase to ever fall from my lips, but it was true from my reference point. I exclusively see Common Loons, both in Maine – where I spent the holidays and into January – and at my home base in Florida. At first glance, the silhouette looked right for a loon, but something was…off.

Mom and I birded at Maine’s Fort Edgecomb State Historic Site while Dad chased my hyperactive toddler across the grassy slope. Despite the relatively warm (but still well below freezing) temperatures birds were few and farm between, but we spotted a Bufflehead, a Long-tailed Duck, a Horned Grebe, a Bald Eagle, and a smattering of both Common Loons and Red-breasted Mergansers. The Common Loon look-alike bird remained a mystery.

We hadn’t intended to spend a lot of time at Fort Edgecomb, and had left the car with just a pair of binoculars in hand. Well, that wasn’t going to cut it now that we needed better resolution for identification purposes. Mom went back for the camera with the 300 mm lens, just in time for the seabird to paddle farther away. One more trip back to the vehicle and we set up the spotting scope on a weathered picnic table.

Mom sets up the scope.

Yes! Now the bird came into view. A more delicate bill, angled up slightly. A smaller frame. A white neck and face… No wonder we thought it looked like a “strange” loon – it was a loon: A Red-throated Loon! Uncommon but not necessarily rare during Maine, this gorgeous species enjoyed the calm waters of the cove, periodically diving for fish and other prey beneath the surface.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love birding during Maine winters more than any other season!

Written by Erika Zambello
Erika Zambello is a National Geographic Young Explorer who grew up in Maine, inspiring a deep interest in nature at an early age. She fell in love with birding after receiving a Sibley field guide for Christmas during her senior year in college, and has birded across the eastern seaboard and internationally ever since. To inspire others to protect birds and the environment, she has blogged for the Conservation Fund, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Triangle Land Conservancy, and Duke University, and is writing a birding guide to Northern New England for Wilderness Adventures Press. She has founded, and is currently living along the Emerald Coast in Florida's Panhandle. You can check out her exploration site or follow her on Instragram.