Wednesday, December 24, 2014 Christmas Eve 11:11 am CST

33 degrees F    Cloudy     CalmSunrise   7:51 am CST     Sunset 4:34 pm CST First of all and most important, MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you! And for those of you who may not celebrate Christmas, Happy Hanukkah to you or just best wishes. Here in the "Great White North", it is anything but white. While we had a BIG snowstorm here back in November, most of that snow has now melted and it looks like we might have a 'brown Christmas' here. That is something that we Minnesotans are not used to and do not like.  To us, Christmas just should be 'white'!  For the last week we have had unusually mild weather for this time of year.  And most of the snow from the November storm has melted.  Now all that is left are the snow drifts and along the roads where the snow plows have built up rows of snow. The lake is still frozen in spite of the mild weather.  We had enough cold weather in November that there is not much danger of the lake opening up.  There are a few fish houses out in the middle of the lake and many more to come when the temperatures drop, as they inevitably will. And hopefully all of our loons are now safely ensconced on the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Coast. I would encourage you to check out the USGS website to track the juvenile loons that Kevin and Steve and Luke implanted with satellite transmitters back in August.  You can see exactly where they have been and where they are now.  It is fascinating to watch their movements.  And Bob has done such a great job of updating the map. You can find the map to track the juvenile loons at:http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/terrestrial/migratory_birds/loons/migrations.html

This is the first time that we will be able to follow the movements of juvenile loons! So little is known about loon behavior during the winter.  But even less is known about juvenile loons. So being able to follow their movements promises to add immeasurably to the body of knowledge of what we know about loons. No doubt you will remember that it is commonly believed that when the juvenile loons migrate south [and amazingly they find the way down south on their own!], it is believed that they will spend the first 2 or 3 years of their life on the Gulf of Mexico before they once again come back to their homes on the lakes of northern forests. Now we will be able to watch and learn. Last summer there was a pair of juvenile loons on the lake here.  So obviously this pair came back "before they were supposed to". It is very interesting to me to see that 2 of the juvenile loons are hanging out way over along the Texas Coast, even as far south as Mexico.  That is further west than most of the loons go. Why did they decide to go over there?  Surprisingly they were both hatched on the same lake!  What made them go further west than all the other loons?  Is there some connection that it is those two loons and not the others?  Are there more loons than what we thought that spend time over in that area? So many questions and so few answers. Enjoy watching and learning with all the rest of us. As most of you know, loons cannot stay here when the lakes freeze over.  They need up to a quarter mile of open water to take off. If they do not have open water, they are trapped. They will die unless someone rescues them. We had a situation like that a few weeks ago. A juvenile loon did not take off.   The ice started forming on his lake.  Inexorably the ice grew and grew.  And the area of open water where he could swim grew smaller and smaller.  Day by day it was becoming more desperate for him.  If he did not fly away, he would not survive. And now the small area of open water had become too small for him to take off, even if he tried. Things had gotten desperate. Fortunately a family was watching his plight. They contacted authorities and got permission to attempt a rescue. Even the rescue was dangerous because of the possibility that they might fall through the ice. But rescue him they did! And they brought him to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for treatment. You can read some of the story here:. Loon rescued from icy lake http://www.parkrapidsenterprise.com/content/loon-rescued-icy-lake

Enjoy reading the heartwarming story.

On this, one of the shortest days of the year, we look forward to the days now beginning to lengthen. And then before we know it, the ice will start to melt and once again our beloved loons will grace us with their presence.  And their beauty and their haunting calls. But for now, we enjoy this special time of year with the warmth of family and friends. MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours! Questions or comments?  LoonCam at yahoo dot com Copyright 2014   Larry R Backlund

Sunday, November 16, 2014 9:21pm CST

5 degrees F  Clear  CalmSunrise  7:13 am CST  Sunset  4:42 pm CST

The Silent Season has arrived and settled in. The lake froze over yesterday morning. So now the huge flocks of seagulls with their raucous calls are gone. The several dozen swans with their musical calls are gone. The large flocks of Canada geese with their honking are gone. And of course, our beloved loons are now gone for sure if they had not left before.

Silence is here.

Last Monday we received 12-16 inches of snow! The blanket of snow silences things even more. What had been the colors of fall and the blue of the lake is now all white.  Snow in pine trees paint the prettiest Christmas card.  And the birds are active at the snow covered feeders.

This morning there were deer tracks in the snow within just a few feet of the house.  Obviously the deer had made their way through during the night.  It always surprises me that they often come that close to the house.

I was out in the western part of the state and Up North from Tuesday to Friday.  ["Up North" is something that is typically Minnesotan.  We always talk about going "Up North".  In New York it is going 'up state'and other areas may have different expressions.  But here in Minnesota it is going "Up North".]

Some of the small ponds had frozen out west and Up North but most of the lakes were still open.  Including our 'loon lake' which was still open. But we got our first subzero reading on Friday night - minus 3 degrees. And the lake that had been almost totally open, except for a band of ice out from shore about 100 feet, was completely frozen over on Saturday morning.  

Swans and geese and seagulls that had been there Friday night were gone in the morning.

I mentioned the USGS website to you where you can track the 17 juvenile loons that Kevin Kenow and his crew had implanted with satellite transmitters.   http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/terrestrial/migratory_birds/loons/migrations.html

You may want to check it out. I think you will find it very interesting.  And your children's and grandchildren's teachers have a tremendous opportunity to use it as a great teaching tool.

Some of the loons are already down on the Gulf of Mexico. But surprisingly 6 were still on their northern lakes and 4 are 'enroute' when the site was last updated on Friday.

I would guess that will change dramatically the next time the locations are updated.  Since most of the lakes are probably now frozen over, those juveniles will be on the move.  At least hopefully they have left those lakes before they froze over.  Otherwise they are doomed.

There are numerous cases of loons freezing into a lake and perishing.  Whether it was because they could not fly or that they had other difficulties.  But it is important that the loons are in the air before the lake freezes.

It will be very interesting to see how they move and where they go.  Whereas the adults that we tracked last year all went directly over to Lake Michigan, most of the juveniles that have been migrating so far seem to be taking a more direct route to the Gulf. Once again, we have so much to learn.

Stay tuned and we will learn together.

Copyright 2014   Larry R Backlund

11:55 pm CDT Saturday, November 1, 2014

35 degrees F Clear Wind Calm Sunrise 7:52 am CDT Sunset 5:59 pm CDT

I cannot believe that it has been over 2 months since I last updated you!

I apologize for the long delay.

Since I have last talked to you, a lot has happened. And changed.

The most obvious change has been we have moved from summer to late fall. And the weather the last few days shows it.

It was 15 degrees here this morning!

There is a little bit of ice forming along the edge of the lake. A month from now the lake will probably be completely frozen over.

A small lake/pond about a mile away was frozen over this morning. A pair of swans has made it their home for the last several years and once again had two cygnets. They were on the pond yesterday. But obviously gone this morning. They may have been part of a group of swans that was on the lake here today.

I am afraid that I cannot give you much first hand information about 'our loons' since I have not seen them since I last posted in the blog in August.

Since I last talked to you, I have been in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Wisconsin and from one end of Minnesota to the other!

Other than that, not much has been going on.

By now there our adult loons should definitely be on their way south if not already down on the Gulf of Mexico.

And the young loons are starting to move.

I still owe you a little more information on the work that I did with Kevin Kenow and the USGS back in July. And I will try to do that and not take as much time as I have in giving you this update.

But the thing that I want to especially let you know about right now is that Kevin and the USGS have been working on a new project which should provide some VERY interesting information about our beloved loons.

We have talked about how little is known about loons during their time on their wintering grounds on the Gulf and on the Atlantic Ocean.

The project that we did a couple years ago of placing data recorders on a number of loons, including our LoonCam loons, should help fill in information about some of that unknown time.

But with as little as we know about adults during this time, we know even less about what juveniles do during this time. Or even for the first two or three years of their lives.

This past August, the USGS surgically implanted satellite transmitters in 20 juvenile loons (chicks from this summer) in Minnesota and Wisconsin!

You will remember that we did the same thing with a number of adult loons about 5 years ago.

But now we will be able to watch the movements of these 20 juveniles.

You can find the interactive map at - http://umesc.usgs.gov/terrestrial/migratory_birds/loons/migrations.html

Share this link with your children and grandchildren and their teachers. And your entire family and circle of friends.

So far only 2 of the 20 loons have started their migration, although all of them will probably begin to move quickly now that much colder weather is moving in and as their home lakes freeze over.

The next couple weeks should bring a lot of action.

We have had a very mild and beautiful month of October, so there was not much incentive for the juvenile loons to move. But now they will have increasing motivation to start their migration. It will be very interesting to watch to see what they do.

The first juvenile started out way before any of the others. He left his home lake in northern Wisconsin about October 22 and arrived down on the Gulf on October 30th.

The second juvenile left his home lake in Minnesota about October 9th and is now in Mississippi and is still not on the Gulf as of October 30th.

We were up on Gunflint Lake along the Canadian border in the middle of October. On Thursday, October 16th, there were two juvenile loons that swam up to us. I was not too surprised to see the juveniles still on the lake. But then when we were down near the far end of the lake, an adult came swimming up to our boat.

I WAS surprised to see that adult still there. And I assume by now he is well on his way of his migration. Possibly over on Lake Michigan or even already down on the Gulf of Mexico.

Like I said, being gone so much over the last couple months I have not been able to observe our loons here. The last I saw all four of them was on August 20th when I gave you the last report. The next day I left for Alaska.

Then in September, when I got home for a few days I was going to go out to look for them before I left again.

But I never made it out.

I found out that while I had been in Alaska and out West, one of our friendly muskrats had decided to visit the pontoon and chew on the wires! What they find so tasty about electrical wires I will never know.

But they put the pontoon out of commission and I was not able to get out on the lake to observe our loons. So back in for repair it went! the damage was not quite as bad as a few years ago when they really did a number of the wiring. But it was enough to make the pontoon unusable.

So I was not able to observe our loons.

Yesterday I saw one of our faithful followers of the LoonCam who asked when I was going to be able to update you about our loons(sorry about the delay, Mike!).

He mentioned watching the young loons practicing their initial flights. (I was not clear if it was this year or a previous year that he watched them.)

He said that they would take off and fly for a short distance and then land. And then they would take off again.

It takes repeated practice flights to 'get the hang of it' and to build up the strength of their flight muscles in preparation for their long trip down to the Gulf.

This is very much a time of transition.

Not only for people who live in the North Country. As we move from summer to winter and all that means. But also for our loons.

Dramatic changes in scenery and temperatures.

But also a big change in the pace of life and the style of life.

And that is also true of our loons.

Comments or Questions LoonCam@yahoo.com Because of the volume of mail, I will not be able to reply personally. But eventually I will catch up and read all your emails.

Copyright 2014 Larry R Backlund

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 9:57 pm CDT

69 degrees F     Clear     Calm Sunrise 6:20 am CDT      Sunset 8:12 pm CDT

Summer is starting to wind down.

The days are noticeably shorter.  The sun sets sooner.  And rises later.   Since our peak back in June shortly after our loon chicks hatched, we have lost almost two hours of daylight!

It is especially noticeable in the evening with the earlier sunset.  Gone is light lasting until almost 10 pm.

Soon the shorter days will also have an effect on our loons.

The urge to migrate south for the winter will soon kick in.

In the next few weeks the adults will start to move and form large groups called "rafts".  And then the migration will begin.

One of the things that we have learned from the study that the USGS is doing is how important Lake Michigan is to our migrating loons.  We have always known the Great Lakes were important but I am not sure any of us really understood how important.

I had always thought that most of our loons here in Minnesota simply headed south when they left our lakes.  And that Lake Michigan was mainly used by Canadian loons.

But we found that every one of the Minnesota and Wisconsin loons, that had satellite transmitters implanted, headed straight over to Lake Michigan!

Most of them spent 2 or 3 weeks there before they finally headed down to the Gulf of Mexico.

In one of my updates soon, I will give you some of the preliminary information that has been retrieved from the data recorder on our male loon.  I think you will find it interesting.

But probably the biggest thing you want to know is "How are our chicks doing?".

Our chicks are doing great!

They are healthy and active and still growing.

You would not recognize them compared to the little fuzzballs that you say leave the nest just 10 weeks ago.

They are now almost completely feathered out and most of their down is gone.  They do not have the black and white plumage that we are used to with adult loons.  It is a light gray color.  And they will keep this color of plumage for the next 2 to 3 years.

I observed them at length this afternoon as they swam with their parents.

They are able to catch some of their own food now.  And they are able to dive easily for 30 seconds or longer.

But they still will take every fish that a parent offers them.  In fact one of the chicks this afternoon stayed VERY close to the adult and kept begging and begging for fish.  And he hungrily ate every fish that was brought to him.

The chicks will also start their first trial flights in the next couple weeks.

But as I said, the adults will leave here sometime from the end of this month through the month of September.

They will leave the chicks behind.  The chicks will stay for another month after the adults have left.

Then in one of the many miracles of loons, never having been to the Gulf of Mexico the chicks will find the way down there on their own.

It is one of the many times I say, "God, I don't know how you done that but you done good!"

For those of you in the Twin Cities area, Minnesota Bound will be doing a segment about us banding our loons.  It will be this Saturday, August 23 at 6:30 pm/

Questions?  LoonCam@yahoo.com

Copyright 2014   Larry R Backlund

Saturday, August 2, 2014 12:58 pm CDT

86 degrees F     High Hazy Clouds    Wind WSW 3mph

Sunrise   5:58 am CDT     Sunset   8:39 pm CDT

Can it be that we are already into August?

Where has the summer gone?

The loon chicks are still doing great.  Growing bigger and bigger each day.

Now, even though the coloring is different, you have to look twice when you see the silhouette of one of the chicks.  They look like a loon!

They spend more and more time drifting away from their parents.  But they still stay in the same area and eagerly accept any food the adult offers.

But the chicks have now become more adept at diving and in all likelihood are also catching some of their own fish.

They are now 8 weeks old.  In just a few weeks they will make their first attempts at flying.  Once they can do that, they will become more and more independent.

In 4 to 6 weeks, the adults will start to prepare for their long journey down to the Gulf of Mexico.  They will leave the chicks alone to fend for themselves.

It is hard to believe that so much has happened since we first saw the tiny little chicks emerge from the eggs  and peek out from under the parent's wing as we watched them on the LoonCam.

Just a reminder for those of you in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I will be doing a presentation on Amazing Loons at the Isanti County Historical Society in Cambridge, MN on Wednesday, August 13 at 1:00 pm.  I would love to see you there and get a chance to meet you and talk to you.

Also, on Saturday, August 9th  I will be at a community festival called Acorn Day in Oak Grove, MN from 11 am to 3 pm.  They will be transporting the actual loon nest to the festival and I will be there to meet and greet and answer questions.  So if you want to actually see the loon nest in person, the one you have spent so many hours watching on camera, this is your chance.  The festival is on the grounds of the Oak Grove City Hall.

So maybe I will get chance to meet you and talk to you.

Questions?   LoonCam at yahoo dot com