Wednesday, May 22, 2019 7:14 am CDT

44 degrees F Raining Wind ENE 10 mph

Sunrise 5:35 am CDT Sunset 8:34 pm CDT

15 hours 9 minutes of daylight

This spring Mother Nature sure doesn’t seem to be listening when SIMON SAYS that it is time for a warm Minnesota spring day!

Instead it seems like we have been getting day after day of cold and wind and rain. Some Minnesotans are starting to feel like Noah and they are building arks in their back yards - just in case!

But for the loons this is better weather than really hot weather. The rain is no concern to them. They come with some of the best raingear on the planet. And the rain and the wind help to keep the black flies from tormenting them. And the cloudy weather helps them stay much more comfortable as they sit on the nest.

The danger for loons with this much rain is that if they are on a ‘natural’ nest there is always the danger of rising water flooding their nest site. But with this floating platform, it simply rises as falls with the rising and falling water levels.

Although that has its limitations as well.

Some of you may remember a number of years ago when we had some unusually heavy rains and the lake level rose over 17 inches in a matter of 36 hours!

It just kept rising and rising. And the anchor rope on the nest was not long enough to accommodate an unprecedented rise like that in the level of the lake. So the anchor rope itself was pulling the nest underwater.

The nest and the eggs themselves were in danger of being drowned and destroyed!

Most of you know that I never go anywhere near the nest when the loons are here. They own it all. But there have been a few true emergencies like this one that demanded that I do something.

In that case, I had to go out to the nest, unfasten the anchor rope, tie a longer extension on and refasten it.

I did it with great fear and trepidation because I knew that the loons could very possible attack me. And such and attack would not be a pretty sight. I would definitely be the one who would come out on the short end of that attack, probably getting stabbed in my legs.

I knew that the loons would not be happy. But I had no other choice.

As I made my way out to the nest, the loon kept its eye on me. All of a sudden it hurtled from the nest into the water. But it did not go far. A few feet from the nest, it did the penguin dance and it tremoloed and yodeled. It was not a happy camper.

But that made two of us. I was not a relaxed camper either.

By this time the other loon had come in to confront this intruder that was messing with their nest.

I hurriedly untied and tied ropes like I had rehearsed over and over in my mind before I ever went out there. Both loons were there. Both loons were unhappy. Both loons were splashing and diving and calling.

I worked as fast as I could. All the time trying to keep an eye on two upset loons that were only feet away.

Neither loon seemed to understand that I was there to help them.

Several times I felt the rush of water as they swam within inches of my legs. They could have stabbed me. But they didn’t.

As I finished lengthening the anchor rope, I started to back away from the nest. I kept trying to watch for the loons and keep track of where they were. But they dove and they ‘just disappeared’.

I kept backing away from the nest toward shore - but still a LONG ways from shore.

Where were the loons? Where did they go? I had never seen such a complete disappearing act like this.

After I was some distance from the nest, I turned to walk towards shore.

And that is when I found out where the loons were!

There they were just a few feet in front of me. Swimming underwater. They had been behind me the whole time I was trying to figure out where they had gone.

And I have no better way to describe it that there were two underwater guided missiles frantically going back and forth.. I could have almost reached out and touched them, they were that close. Back and forth they went at surprising speed. Streamlined just like underwater missiles.

They could have so easily stabbed me in the legs. But they didn’t. For which I am eternally grateful.

Once I reached shore and left the area, they swam back to the nest. It took them some minutes to calm down and get back up on the nest. But they did.

And once again all was right with the world. And their eggs were once again safe.

I made some adjustments to the anchoring system in following years to prevent this kind of disaster from ever happening again. But we have never had such an amazing rise in the level of the water since that one time.

During all the rain from the last week or more, the lake has come up almost 5 inches. But the new anchoring system has handled it without any problem.

And our loon’s nest is not going underwater!

Even with the incessant battering of the waves, the nesting material seems to be doing pretty good at staying in place. That is a whole other story. There is much more to it than just throwing a bunch of stuff on the nesting platform. That would wash away or blow away in short order. But that is a story for another time.

For today, our loons are safely on the nest protecting two precious eggs.

One egg will be 12 days old today. And the second egg just passed the 8 day mark.

“Normal” incubation for a loon egg has always been said to be 28-30 days.

But with what we have learned from the LoonCam over the years, “normal” may be slightly less than that.

We will talk more about that in another blog entry.

For today, we sit back and enjoy that rain with the loons. Soon the rain and cool weather will be gone and they will be sitting in sun and warmth.

And hopefully very soon we will see two beautiful loon chicks!

Copyright 2019 Larry R Backlund

Monday, May 20, 2019 10:15 pm CDT

49 degrees Clear Wind Calm

Sunrise 5:36 am CDT Sunset 8:42 pm CDT

After the “monsoon“ of the last several days, today truly turned out to be a “SIMON SAYS” day!

Although the high temperature here at Loon Lake of 64 degrees F was slightly below average, it was a GREAT improvement over the cold and rain and wind of the last few days.

There was brilliant sunshine and deep blue skies and only a hint of a nice breeze.

Over the weekend we got over 3 inches of rain here at Loon Lake. In a town not too far from here a friend of mine said they got over 3 inches of rain just Saturday night through Sunday morning. And his basement flooded.

And it was cold. It got down to 31 degrees F here at ‘Loon Lake’ last night! Snow showers were dancing around us. Getting all too close! Duluth had 2 1/2 inches of snow and one place in northern Wisconsin got 7 1/2 inches!

This is way too late in the spring for this kind of cold and snow. Even for us winter hardened Minnesotans.

We are supposed to get some more rain tomorrow night into Wednesday morning. This is the same storm that has dropped snow on Denver and caused many many tornadoes in Oklahoma and Texas. So I guess we are fortunate.

The forecast is for the temperatures to continue to improve through this week and right now the Memorial Day weekend is looking to be very nice.

For the most part our loons have settled into their own routine and have been very faithful on the nest.

During the height of the cold and rain and wind yesterday I watched them make one nest exchange that was textbook and picture perfect. The female got up from the back side of the nest, sat and waited as the male went off the front side and then she moved onto the eggs, rolled them and settle down on them.

The whole exchange took no more than 5 seconds and the eggs were exposed for only a couple seconds during the exchange.

The male continues to be much more relaxed and at ease on the nest. Very seldom does much of anything bother him. Although I have seen and heard him get very concerned when an eagle flew too low over the nest. Whereas the female often goes into hangover even when I don’t see anything that should be concerning to her. But she knows. And through it all she has been very faithful in staying on the nest.

I guess we have not talked about “hangover” yet this year. So especially for new viewers let me explain what I mean by the word “hangover”. No, the loons have NOT been out partying too much.

Many times when a loon senses danger of someone or something getting too close to the nest, they will lower their heads. And in the most extreme cases they will actually lay their head and their next on the side of the nest. This is called “hangover”.

It is their way of being as inconspicuous as possible. And it works!

There are times when I look at the nest and cannot tell if the loon is on the nest or not. So I go in the house and look at the LoonCam and sure enough … the loon is in total hangover and “hiding”. They will stay in this position until the danger has passed and then they will sit with their head up.

But if the danger continues or gets closer, the loon will probably leave the nest and maybe even try to draw the intruder away from the nest.

It is amazing all the tools and behaviours that the loons have at their disposal.

All intended to give the best chance for those precious eggs to produce even more precious (and beautiful) loon chicks!

Copyright 2019 Larry R Backlund

Saturday, May 18, 2019 11:55 pm CDT

43 degrees F Rain Windy

Sunset 5:38 am CDT Sunset 8:40 pm CDT

Well, Mother nature did not listen to SIMON very good, did she? We are back to cold and rain and wind. Today we only had a high of 46 degrees F here at Loon Lake!

Overnite there are supposed to once again be heavy storms with a lot of rain. In fact, lightning and thunder and light rain started just a little while ago.

But the eggs are safe and sound right now under one of the loons.

Last night I was a little concerned when, just as it was getting dark, the female loon left the nest and the eggs were uncovered for over an hour in the chilly temperatures and wind. I was especially concerned because the storms were getting close to Loon Lake.

But before the storms came in, one of the loons returned to the nest and safely tucked the eggs under her/him. And kept them safe all through the night and the rain. We got some over an inch of rain overnight. The rain (and even the chilliness) has little effect on the loons. They are used to water … and rain.

Plus it has had a real advantage of keeping away some of the black flies from tormenting the loons..

Many of you have noticed how awkward the loons are as the get up on the nest. In the next few days, I will explain why loons find it so hard to get around on land. They are birds of the water and the air.

But tonight let me explain briefly about the procedure they go through when they get on the nest.

As they awkwardly get up on the nest, they will ‘stand upright’ as they use their beak to try to position the eggs underneath their body. Sometimes it can be quite the productions.

You may have noticed that they position the eggs far back under their body.

Most birds have a “brood patch” on their chest. It is an area of bare skin that becomes exposed when they settle down on their eggs. The bare skin allows for efficient transfer of body heat to the eggs.

Loons do not have a ‘brood patch’ like that.

Instead they have an area at the far back area of their bodies between their legs that has an unusual concentration of blood vessels. They do not have a bare skin brood patch like other birds. But with this increased amount of blood vessels between their legs, they have extra body heat that they can transfer to the eggs.

So they will carefully do the “egg roll” trying to get the eggs perfectly positioned to benefit from this warmth.

Usually they will get back up after a minute or two and readjust the eggs. Sometimes it will take them 2 or 3 attempt before they get the eggs positioned perfectly and they settle down on the eggs..

Once they settle down on the eggs, watch them also do something else. Especially on cold nights like this.

Normally they carry their wingtips crossed in an “X” above their tail.

When they settle on the eggs, they will lower their entire wing and then tuck their wingtips UNDER their tail.

By doing this they create a little sealed “thermos bottle” all around the eggs. Heat is trapped in. COld wind and breezes are kept out.

And to make sure this wonderful warm cocoon is kept nice and tight and secure, they will lower their tail over the tucked in wingtips and by so doing, lock everything in place!

Just another one of the amazing little things our loons do that can so easily escape our notice and attention. Unless we watch closely.

Right now, on a cold evening (with the possibility a SNOW tomorrow!!!), those precious eggs are locked away. All cozy and comfy in the warmth of the loon’s "incubator”!

Copyright 2019 Larry R Backlund

Thursday, May 16, 2019 11:29 pm CDT

54 degrees F Clear Wind 6mph N

Sunrise 5:41 am CDT Sunset 8:37 pm CDT

[Yesterday morning I had almost completed the whole blog entry before leaving town on a short trip. But the pesky internet gremlins somehow completely erased it before I could post it! And I did not have time to completely rewrite it before I had to leave. So I will try to remember a little bit of what I had talked about and post it now.]

It looks as if Mother Nature has finally listened to SIMON and given us several spectacular Minnesota spring days in a row.

The last couple days it was up in the low 80’s and today it got to 78 degrees F. Surprisingly the Twin Cities had their first 80 degree day today, some 240+ days since they last reached 80 degrees. So here at Loon Lake we beat them out on the first 80 degree day.

The loons pant as they sit on the nest in the warm sunshine. Just like a dog pants, a loon pants to help get rid of extra body heat. They are more at home in the cool or even cold water than they are sitting in the heat of the direct sunshine on the nest.

The major part of what I wrote about yesterday (which was lost) was about the black flies which plague loons.

In one of the most host specific cases in all of nature I think, these particular black flies feed almost exclusively on loon blood! Talk about specialization!

This particular species of black flies that feed on loon blood is called Simulium annulus. It used to be called Simulium euryadminiculum when I was first learning about them. Who changed the name and why I have never understood. But it is the same fly.

Because of the wind today, these black flies were not quite as much of a bother to the loons as they have been for the last several days. So for the loons, there is an advantage to a little bit of wind.

These blood-sucking black flies can really torment loons. They land especially on the black head of the loon and then burrow through the fine smooth feathers to get down to the skin where they can then bite and suck the loon’s blood.

This year is one of the worst I have seen in some time with the number of black flies on our loon’s head. But today the wind gave them a little bit of a respite.

In bad outbreaks of the flies, loons can sometimes be seen with welts and scabs on their heads from the attack of these flies.

In particularly bad years, the black flies can torment the loons so much that they actually drive them from the nest repeatedly. And they may cause the loon to abandon the nest completely.

There was a particularly bad outbreak of these black flies in 2014 in Wisconsin. Estimates by several researchers said that up to 70% of loon nests were abandoned that year because of black fly attacks.

The good news is that these black flies only live for 2 to 3 weeks. The bad news is that their life span occurs just about the same time as when loons are on the nest.

When a loon is swimming, they can dive and drive most of the flies off. But sitting on the nest they are particularly vulnerable to their attacks.

Cooler weather is more comfortable for the loons. But the bad news of that is that the black flies live a little bit longer in the cooler weather. Warmer weather like we have had the last several days speeds up the life span of the flies. But it also allows them to be more numerous and more active during their shortened life span due to the warmer weather. And therefore more attacks on the loons.

So the loons are faced with a dilemma. Cooler weather that is more comfortable with less activity from the flies but a lengthened time that the flies are alive and active. Or warmer weather which is less comfortable for the loon on the nest, MORE black flies who are more active but who will die sooner.

As with so many things in life, there are no simple black and white choices. Even for loons.

These black flies can also carry diseases that they can transmit to loons.

There have been a couple studies of the particular black fly and their specificity to loons and loon blood.

One of the early studies took museum specimens of loon skins and other waterfowl and placed them near a lake. By a stunning margin of well over 90%, the black flies chose the loon skins and almost completely ignored the other waterfowl skins.

It is not completely clear whether it is a chemical signal or smell that the flies follow. Or if it is the shape and pattern and color of the loons. It appears that both are factors in their choice but it is not completely understood.

More research needs to be done to understand it more completely.

But you don’t have to worry. These black flies don’t like you or your blood. They are not like gnats that can torment humans with their buzzing around our heads and biting us and sucking our blood. But gnats are a perfect example to help us humans understand how pesky the black flies can be to loons.

Now put yourself in the loon’s place where you are sitting out in the open for hours on end, unable to leave. With gnats flying all around your head and biting you and leaving welts and drawing blood. And you don’t have hands or a swatter or bug spray to keep them away!

Now you know what the loons have to put up with.

Over the next few days the weather is going to cool significantly from what it has been the last few days.

Starting tomorrow night we are supposed to get rain through Sunday afternoon or evening. Some models are predicting several inches of rain over that time with some possibility of severe weather as well.

The loons will handle the rain just fine. Not so much if we get severe weather.

You may have noticed over the last couple nights that the camera has cycled between regular color and infrared mode for several hours. Some have speculated that there is something wrong with the infrared light or the sensor in the camera.

At this point I am not too concerned. We are at almost full moon phase and it has been very bright. I think the camera cycling is just due to the great light sensitivity of this camera and the bright moon light.

You have seen the camera do this every evening and every morning at sunset and sunrise as it tries to decide which mode to use. Full color or infrared.

The real test will come tomorrow night and over the next couple days as rain and clouds move in. If the camera does not do it when it is cloudy at night, then it is almost certain that it is simply due to the moonlight being so bright.

It is hard to believe that this weekend we are coming up on one full week since the eggs were laid.

We are almost a quarter of the way through their incubation already! It is hard to believe. And it is also hard to understand all the changes and miracle of life that is taking place inside those eggs right now.

You don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Now is also the time to tell your family and your friends and your kids and your grandkids to be sure to log on and watch the LoonCam. All too soon another “loon season” will be done and finished with.

Another thing you might want to do is to encourage your kids and grandkids to ask their teacher if they can watch the LoonCam at school and learn from it! This is especially valuable for science classes and biology classes.

Or you may want to call your local school yourself and encourage them to take advantage of this wonderful learning opportunity.

Instead of trying to remember long confusing internet addresses, I have found that it is easiest for people to remember if you just tell them to Google “Larry’s Loons” or “Larry’s LoonCam”. And up will come all the information to find the LoonCam.

And there will also be links to so much other information. As well as hundreds if not thousands of videos that people have recorded and posted online. Many of you right here have been faithful in documenting the activities of our loons on the LoonCam.

So be sure to encourage your family and friends and kids to take advantage of this ever so brief time that they can see loons up close and personal. And learn so much from the experience!

I will never forget the Thank You letter that I got a few years ago from a teacher in California. She said she had NEVER had anything that was as useful as a motivational tool as the LoonCam. She said each morning the kids would come in and say, “‘Mrs Johnson’, can we watch the LoonCam?”

She would tell them ‘as soon as ALL of you get your work done, we will turn on the LoonCam!’

And so the kids would buckle down and do their work. And the smarter kids would of course finish first. but they knew that they could not watch the LoonCam until ALL the kids finished their work. So the kids that finished first would help the other kids!

She said she had never had such an effective motivational tool as the LoonCam.

Happy Loon Watching!

Copyright 2019 Larry R Backlund

Tuesday, May 14, 2019 7:05 am CDT

46 degrees Clear Wind Calm

Sunrise 5:43 am CDT Sunset 8:35 pm CDT

“Good Morning from Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the LOONS are above average!”

This definitely IS a “Simon Says day” in so many ways!

It is an absolutely beautiful Minnesota spring morning here on Loon Lake!

The lake is a stunning sky blue with just the hint of a few zephyrs of breezes forming small ripples on some parts of the lake. But around the loon nest itself it is like a perfect mirror reflecting a perfect loon sitting on a perfect nest with 2 perfect eggs under him!

The rising sun paints shafts of blinding light shimmering off the calm surface of the water.

And all is well with the world.

Last night at 12:21 am CDT our female loon had the delivery of her second egg!

There was very little fanfare or signs of the miracle that was about to unfold. If you blinked, you missed it! (Like I did with the first egg!)

The whole thing took only 4 minutes from her first “rising up and pushing” to the actual emergence of the egg.

If you want to watch the whole miracle happen, you can go to http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/121896042 to watch the whole miraculous event.

The female first rises up at the 1:44:00 time stamp on the video and the egg pops free at 1:48:24.

Four minutes of wonder.

Loon researchers of not that many years ago could never dream of seeing what you can now see in the comfort of your home or school at any time you want to view it.

In fact, many have said that until the LoonCam first showed a loon laying an egg and recorded it some 14 or 15 years ago, no one had ever recorded the actual laying of a loon egg. Or maybe even seeing it happen live. All researchers ever knew was that yesterday or a couple days ago there was no egg on the nest and now there is one. They never or seldom knew when it had actually happened.

But YOU can know exactly when it happened and you can actually see it happening.

Something that we could never do before.

It is an amazing gift that we have.

So now we settle in for the next 4 weeks for “loon chick watch”. That magical miraculous moment when we see the adult loon on the nest “twitching” as an impossibly cute loon chick makes its way out from within the confines of its egg.

And then the time is so fleeting that we get to see the chick before it jumps in the water within a day or so and disappears off into the big wide world of the lake. From then on it is a water bird.

So enjoy these wonderful, miraculous days as we wait for the chicks.

Days no doubt filled with wonder and drama and peace and heart stopping excitement.

Copyright 2019 Larry R Backlund