Red-throated Loon (Diver)
This streamlined bird is an underwater specialist, also known as the "Diver"
Information about Red-throated Loon (Diver)
Our Expert Says… "These are quite a shy species, and often they will lie low in the water which can make them difficult to spot, but as guides, we can usually help you to get a good encounter. When the chicks are very small and first leave the nest, they can often be seen taking a ride on the parents' backs!"
Red-throated loons (known as red-throated divers in the UK) are arctic-breeding water birds, the smallest in the loon family. It is named for the highly distinctive red patch it develops on its throat feathers during the breeding season.
Like all loons, the red-throated loon’s body is perfectly suited to its aquatic life. It has dense bones compared to most birds, which allow it to submerge more easily. Its legs are positioned further back than many other aquatic bird species which gives it more a more powerful and efficient swimming stroke. It also has a highly streamlined body shape, including a sharply pointed bill, which allows it to move underwater with ease.
Red-throated loons are fish-catching specialists, but they are also known to eat mollusks, crustaceans, frogs, and insects. They can dave up to 30ft when chasing prey, and can stay underwater for up to a minute at a time.
At around 63cm (25”) long, the red-throated loon has a wingspan of about 1.1m (40”) and weighs on average 2.3kg (5lb). In summer, adults have a dark grey head and neck with that distinctive red patch, white underparts, and a dark greyish-brown back. Winter plumage is drabber, with a mainly white neck and head, a grey cap and grey back to the neck, and a dark back.
Adults molt all of their feathers at once each year, meaning that for about 3 or 4 weeks in late summer to autumn they are flightless until their new wing feathers come in.
Pictures of Red-throated Loon (Diver)
Highlights where the Red-throated Loon (Diver) can be seen
Festningen and Russekeila
There is some great tundra to explore along the flat coast on the SW side of Isfjorden, to the east of Kapp Linne. Festningen, quite close to Barentsburg, is well known for the fossils, including the footprint of a dinosaur in sediments that have been forced by the Earth’s forces into a vertical position. Russekeila is a cultural site from the time the Russian Pomors carried out trapping in this area.
The sound between Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet in the high Arctic, in contrast to the milder coast of western Spitsbergen. Early in the season it is locked in ice that slowly clears from the south.
The northern end can be blocked by the pack for a while, varying from season to season. Once open, it enables circumnavigation of Spitsbergen, although ice can still drift in on strong currents and block Hinlopenstretet. When Hinlopenstretet is open, but the northern end is still blocked, ships will come into the area, typically sailing along Freemansundet between Edgeøya and Barentsøya, then return.
The area is superb for Zodiac cruises and landings, and can be superb even as a ship cruise. There are plenty of seabirds, the sound can be good for whales, there are various fjords to explore, like the surprisingly arid and desert-like Wahlenbergfjorden, various island groups to explore, like Wahlbergøya, and the chance to experience what is described as the polar desert. Three locations stand out as highlights in whole of Svalbard, the ice cliff Bråsvellbreen, the Walrus Haul out at Torellneset , and the bird cliff at Alkefjellet.
Kongsvegen and Kongsbreen
The inner part of Kongsfjorden is popular for ship cruising and especially Zodiac cruising with the mountain scenery, some impressive glacier fronts, and the chance to explore the ice floes looking for wildlife, and the chance of a bear.
Also keep a look out for Long tailed Jaegers, one of the few places they breed in Svlbard is on the island of Ny London in the middle of Kongsford. A number of lakes and pools in the region can attract a range of waterbirds.
This island, and the associated smaller islands, is off the NW coast of Nordaustlandet. Lågøya means ‘low island’, and it is the site of a Walrus haul out and is great for bird life, with the chance of Sabine’s Gulls that are attracted to the lagoons on the island.
Part of the island is sea¬so¬nal¬ly pro¬tec-ted and off limits and landings are often thwarted by the presence of a bear, or bears. It is an area where there can be loose pack ice when the pack, further to the east, is still too compact to sail though. It means this location very popular for Zodiac cruising with the wildlife that can be encountered. There is at least one old hunter’s cabin on the island, but conditions were particularly harsh on Lågøya, some perishing on the island, making hunters reticent of over wintering here.
The World’s northernmost year-round community and a site of cultural importance with layers of history. Originally it was a remote coal mining town, known as Kings Bay, until a serious accident in 1962.
The location meant King’s Bay was the starting point of various historical attempts to reach the North Pole, and the mast for Nobile’s airships can still be seen. Today it is a centre for international Arctic research, with traditional houses of when it was King’s Bay alongside modern bases for various countries. It is great to walk around the town and tourism also plays a role and ships can come alongside at the dock (one of the few docks apart from Longyearbyen and Barentsburg in Svalbard). There are shops, a museum, and the most northerly post office in the World. It is also great for birds, including Barnacle Geese (perhaps the most well studied wild geese in the World), Red-throated Loons on the lake, and the chance of an Ivory Gull by the dog kennels.
This location is on the island of Blomstrandhalvøya that is in Kongsfjorden and just across the bay from Ny Ålesund. It is the site of an ill-fated attempt to extract the marble deposits by the Northern Exploration Company and the adventurer Ernest Mansfield.
A lot of money and effort was put into the project, but it turned out the marble would shatter as it warmed up! Today there are the remains of the marble quarry and debris from the mine, including wooden huts, and various bits of machinery, including a crane and a rusting steam engine. As well as the cultural remains it is a good place for wildlife, including the elegant Long-tailed Skuas that breed here that are very rare elsewhere in Svalbard, with the Arctic Skua being far more abundant.
This location is outside Isfjorden on the long island of Prins Karls Foreland, but is within the reach of day trips from Longyearbyen, on a long boat ride. It is known for the Walrus haul out, one of the few relatively close to Longyearbyen, and is popular as a landing for cruise ships. It is a great location to experience a haul out, and they are so used to people, individuals swimming along the shore sometimes come for a closer look! The beaches are covered in logs that have drifted all the way across the Arctic Ocean from Siberia, just watch out for Arctic Terns. The lagoon to the rear can be great for Purple Sandpipers and Red Phalaropes.
Our trips to spot the Red-throated Loon (Diver)