A “LOONEY” day at Red Creek

loony1 Loon-acy: Seven wayward loons brought to Red Creek Wildlife Center -

Things got a little looney at the Red Creek Wildlife Center, a refuge for injured animals in Schuylkill County.
In the space of a few hours Tuesday night, seven wayward loons were brought into the rural shelter near Schuylkill Haven.

Peggy Hentz, an animal rescue specialist who runs the center, said the migratory birds were apparently on their way from the Arctic to winter quarters in the Chesapeake Bay area. Motorists and passers-by rescued loons over an area from northern Schuylkill County to Kutztown, Hentz said, and brought them to the shelter.

“They were apparently confused by stormy weather and landed on highways and parking lots,” Hentz said.

Loons, she explained, confuse wet highways and parking lots for streams and lakes.

Once they land, the birds are unable to take off from land; their natural habitat is water. Because their feet are positioned to the rear of their bodies, they have difficulty even walking on land.

“They live in water and can’t function on land,” Hentz said. “Their legs were built to be paddles, not walkers.”

Red Creek, run largely by volunteers, has had loons in the past. But Tuesday’s invasion was the largest yet.

Shannon Wilson, a Kutztown University student, was driving on Route 222 about 2 p.m. Tuesday when she noticed a large bird at the side of the road.

Thinking it was a goose, she did a U-turn and approached the animal. Never having seen a loon, Wilson sought help and was directed to send Red Creek a photo.

Hentz identified the animal, and urged caution in capturing it. Loons have needle-sharp bills and, when in danger, could go for a person’s eyes.

Wilson, 21, a senior anthropology major from Easton, managed to crate the bird with the help of a passer-by. Then she drove it to Red Creek, a 45-minute ride from Kutztown.

“I was happy to do it,” said Wilson, an obvious animal lover. “In the short time I knew it, I became attached to the loon.”

Hentz and a team of volunteers released six of the seven loons Wednesday afternoon at the Landingville Dam on the Schuylkill River, near Orwigsburg. The seventh had been hit by a car and was unable to be released into the wild.

Cradling the aquatic birds, which are about the size of a wild goose, Hentz’s crew gently launched them into the water.

Known for their haunting call, the loons’ cry interrupted the silence along a stretch whose picturesque landscape was mirrored in the still water.

They paddled out and dove beneath the water, surfacing 20 or 30 yards from shore. To take flight, loons submerge to gain momentum and skim along the water in take-off mode after resurfacing.

The loons, Hentz said, will probably reside at Landingville and feed for a day or two before continuing their journey south. They’re healthy, and she’s confident they will survive.

Emily Case, 16, of Bernville, a junior volunteer at Red Creek, couldn’t handle a bird but got to take photos.

“This is why I love working at Red Creek,” said Emily, who is home-schooled.

Bonnie Bohnenblust of Bern Township, who volunteers at Red Creek, beamed with pride after releasing a loon.

“It’s a privilege,” she said. “You just want to see them go back into the wild.”

Contact Ron Devlin: 610-371-5030 or rdevlin@readingeagle.com. – See more at: http://readingeagle.com/news/article/loon-acy-seven-wayward-loons-brought-to-red-creek-wildlife-center#sthash.Kwbchcv7.dpuf