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Currently, there are 3 species of Loons in the Lower Mainland – Common Loon, Pacific Loon and Red-throated Loon. By early Summer all will have departed for breeding purposes. Last year there was a spotting of Yellow-billed Loon, but they are very rare in these parts.

In terms of abundance, the Common Loon wins out. On occasion, though, the Pacific Loons become very abundant at Point Roberts. Red-throated Loons seem the least “common”, but bias may be possible. That is, Birds are only reported when someone sees them. If Birds are present where no one looks, then they will be unreported.

At present, the three species in the area are not in breeding condition. They are mostly in various shades of black and white. Pacific Loons sport a black necklace around their necks and that is a key identifier. Common Loons are big, with large bills. Red-throated Loons are slimmer, with narrow bills and often hold their bill pointed upwards.

Common Loons are often near to the shoreline and don’t appear particularly nervous when watchers are present. They usually swim parallel to the shoreline. Except for one location, Pacific Loons are usually much farther out from the shoreline. Red-throated Loons can appear at any distance. However, to a photographer’s annoyance, both Pacific and Red-throated Loons often face away from the shoreline.

Common Loons are present now at the White Rock Pier, Blackie Spit and environs, and at Point Roberts. Likely in places I don’t frequent around Stanley Park, etc., too. Pacific Loons are present at Point Roberts and I have never seen one at the White Rock Pier (perhaps one needs a scope). Red-throated Loons I have seen at the White Rock Pier and also at Point Roberts. (What prompted this post was the sudden surfacing of a Red-throated Loon right at the White Rock breakwater as I was standing there.)

The following photos show these Loons mostly in breeding plumage. They all molt into such plumage prior to leaving for breeding. By April, it should be possible to obtain such photos. I have noticed that the Pacific Loons come much closer to the shoreline after molting. They often associate with the Scoters. It is very uncommon to find a Red-throated Loon with a red throat. I suspect they may leave prior to molting into such plumage.

Common Loon



Pacific Loon - the aforementioned black necklace is replaced by a white one in breeding plumage.



Red-throated Loon


By mcrosbie
Great information and photos. I haven't seen any loons at all, but I don't get out and about enough to do that. Most of my birding is from my feeders at home. Perhaps one day I will see new species if I manage to try different locations.
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By zwest
Nice shots! I have also never seen a Pacific Loon. The Red-throated I found recently off of White Rock Pier (its posture is a giveaway).
When I first started photographing birds, I also encountered a RT Loon off the South Jetty at Iona. At that time I didn't know that there was such a bird (I didn't own any guides) and thought I had seen an injured Common Loon. I told someone heading out while I was returning that there was an injured Loon out at the end, that it had blood on its neck. This person, a seasoned Birder who was a magazine contributor, explained to me that this was a different species.

WRT the Pacific Loon, they are currently present, but I have yet to see any swim close to the shoreline. However, during the past two years, some have ventured close to the shoreline starting around May. One stayed through early June. A veteran Birder told me that the Pacific Loons stage off Point Roberts prior to migrating north for breeding.

Alas, Birds are poor readers and often don't follow schedules as outlined in print. For example, during the past two years I have seen many Rhinoceros Auklets at PR, but this year, I have seen none. This is the only location in the Lower Mainland where such Birds are present - as far as I know.


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