Sunday, September 24, 2017 11:25pm CDT

68 degrees F   Cloudy   Wind Calm

Sunrise  7:04 am CDT   Sunset  7:08 pm CDT


When I look back, I can't believe that it has been over 2 months since I last updated you on our loons.

There has been a lot that has happened on all fronts during that time.

The most important things first - our two loon 'chicks' are doing well.  Active and thriving.

I thought that the adults had left back in August because I had not seen them for several weeks.

But then a couple weeks ago, I saw one of the adults with both of the chicks.  So at least one of the adults was still here, although I am sure they will be starting their long migration any day now.  What we have learned over the last few years through the satellite tracking, all of our Minnesota and Wisconsin adult loons headed over to Lake Michigan where they spent a couple weeks feeding before they went down to the Gulf of Mexico.

And then in one of the many miracles of loons, the young do not leave until about a month after the adults.  Never having been down to the Gulf of Mexico and no apparent way of even knowing about it, the young find their way on their own down to the Gulf!

We have had some very unusual weather for late September.  For the last 3 days, including today, our temperatures have been over 90 degrees with high humidity!  This is more like the 'dog days' of August than late September.

We are now at the Fall Equinox where the length of daylight and night is almost exactly equal.

I saw both of the chicks again last night and they were both doing well.  I did not see either of the adults.

And then again this afternoon we were out on the lake and saw one of the chicks.  And we got DUMPED on with one of the heaviest rainstorms that we have had all summer.  And we were not even supposed to get any rain until late tonight.

That rainstorm finally started to lower our temperatures.  So right now it is a more normal temperature in the 60s.

That change in temperature may remind our loons that it is that time of year for them to head south.  Those of you who live in the South or on the Gulf should see our loons beginning to arrive for the winter very soon.  Our loss is your gain.

So we enter what I call the "silent season", that time of year when we don't hear our beloved loons until next spring.


Copyright 2017 Larry R Backlund


Saturday, July 8, 2017 6:33 am CDT

57 degrees  Clear  Wind Calm

Sunrise  5:34 am CDT  Sunset  9:02 pm CDT


In the early morning sunlight, four loons are swimming right out in front of me!

It is OUR loons.  Two adults and two chicks.  Although they can hardly be considered "chicks" anymore.  They are fully three quarters the length of the adults now.

It is hard to believe that they are the same little chicks that left the nest within hours of hatching one month and five days ago.

They seem to be doing very well.  Healthy and active.

The lake is like a sheet of glass.  The sky is blue with just a few scattered clouds.  And the early morning sun's rays are sweeping across the lake.  And they highlight our loons peacefully swimming along and feeding.

The first early morning fishermen have just left the landing and made their way across the lake.  One boat is fishing not too far from our loons.  But they are totally oblivious to the presence of the loons and the loons are not concerned about them either.

The chicks are easily able to dive now.  They may even be able to catch a little bit of their own food.  But for the most part they are still reliant on the parents for their food.

Even though they are approaching the size of an adult loon, they are still wearing their gray down.  It is hard to describe the feel of that down.  It is softer than the softest, most expensive cashmere that you have ever felt.

But very soon the first feathers will begin to appear and they will enter their unkempt 'teenage phase'.

It is interesting to watch the adults as they dive for minnows and fish for the chicks.

It looks simple enough.

The loon dives.  And then a minute or so later he comes up with a fish.

But oh how interesting it would be to see what goes on between the initial dive and the surfacing with a fish.

On a very calm morning like today, one can see hints of what is going on under water as the loon chases VERY fast fish darting around.

Because in between where the loon dove and where he came up, you can see swirls of water on the glass-like surface of the lake.  Swirls that are masked and covered when there are waves or even small ripples on the surface.

Those swirls appear here.  And then there.  And back over here.  And off to that side.  Then this side.  Closer.  Further away.  And all points in between.

The swirls of water on the surface show us that the loon is darting about, making impossible turns and quick movements underwater.  Until he finally nabs the fish he is chasing and comes up with it to give to the chicks.

But then something else catches the loon's attention.

All four loons turn and face the same direction.  Intent on something.  But what is it?

There about a hundred feet away is a dark object swimming straight toward them.  It has their attention.  It leaves a 'v' in the calm surface of the water as it approaches them.

It is a beaver.  With just the top of the head showing above the surface of the water.

As the beaver gets nearer to the loons and the chicks, it does what is probably the wise thing.  It dives.

But one of the adult loons dives as well.

Again how interesting it would be to be able to observe what is going on underwater.

All we can see are numerous swirls on the surface of water.

No doubt there is a new chase going on underwater.

But this time the loon is not trying to catch something.  After all, even if it could catch the beaver, then what would he do with it?

No, the underwater chase right now is a loon trying to drive the beaver away.  Undoubtedly with a few will placed stabs of its beak if the beaver is foolish enough to not beat hasty retreat.

And so that chase and hasty retreat are the story that the swirls on top of the water tell.

Soon the loon surfaces.  Mission complete.  And it returns to its mate and growing chicks.

That is just about a ten minute glimpse into the lives of our beloved loons.

Who knows what all goes on the other 24 hours that we do not see?!

I have some other good news for you.

I have already heard from Kevin Kenow from the USGS.

He has done a preliminary look at the data recorder that we retrieved off our male loon two weeks ago. 

The good news is that the recorder and the data were intact.  And readable.

Kevin said he "obtained a very nice record for 13 July 2012 (date of capture) through 28 October 2013 (when the devices memory was filled)."

With all that data (almost a year and a half of data!), it will take some time to analyze it and make sense out of it.

Kevin has said that he will let me know what he finds out about where our male went and what he did during that time.  It covers two whole migrations south and one migration north in the spring.  So it will be very interesting to learn more about where and when our loon traveled.

Already it sounds like there may be one or two real surprises for us.

But we will just have to be patient and wait for the full results.

I will let you know as soon as I find out more information.

But just know that this morning our loon family is doing well.  Healthy and active and growing.

And they survived a VERY active week on the lake over the 4th of July!


Copyright 2017   Larry R Backlund


Sunday, June 25, 2017 10:15 pm CDT

57 degrees F    Clear    Wind Calm

Sunrise   5:27 am CDT    Sunset   9:05 pm CDT


I promised I would give you a little bit of an update about the capture of the loons on Thursday night.

We have talked about how we do it before but not everyone has read that information and some have asked how we catch the loons.

It is quite the operation and certainly one that you can never be guaranteed of success.

This time there were 5 of us in the boat - Kevin Kenow and Luke from the USGS who I have worked with a number of times before and Janine and Andrew from the MN DNR.

The most important conditions are  that it must be absolutely dark and that the loons must have chicks in order to capture them.  More about that in a minute.  If there is any light in the sky it makes it much more difficult because the loons can see you.

So we do not go out on the lake until between 11 pm and midnight.  And ideally do it when it is a new moon so that there is not any moonlight.

Just before sunset I had watched to see where the loons were so that we knew what part of the lake to start looking for them.  Although between that time and when we are actually on the lake, they can be far away from where I last  saw them.  On Thursday night, all 4 loons were swimming right out in front of my place.  That has been a little unusual this year since they have ranged from one side of the lake to the other.

We headed out across the lake to where I had last seen them.

We were not able to locate them at first but soon spotted them  We use bright spotlights and scan the surface of the lake until we locate them.  Then keeping the spotlights trained on them we slowly maneuver towards them

We see only one of the adults but it has both of the chicks with it.

By keeping the bright lights trained on them they are not able to see us as we approach.  And the reason it is necessary to have the chicks there is that the loons will tend stay on the surface to protect the chicks.  Without the chicks, the loon would just dive immediately and it would be impossible to catch them.

As Luke maneuvers the boat up close to them, Kevin is in the bow of the boat with a big muskie net.  When we are right next to the loons, Kevin scoops the adult loon up out of the water.  It is the female loon.

Then begins the flurry of activity and the time that is the most dangerous time for both the loon and us.

Obviously the loon is trying desperately to get away, even though it is in the net.  So it is imperative to quickly get control of the loon so that it does not injure itself.  And that is also the time that the danger of being stabbed with that very sharp beak is a real danger.

So we quickly get control of the loon and place it in a plastic bin brought along especially for that purpose.

Now it is time to try to capture the chicks.  We cannot leave them alone on the lake.

In short order, both chicks are scooped out of the water by the same method and placed in another plastic bin for safe keeping.  The chicks are peeping loudly and the female answers to them from the plastic bin she is in.

Now we must try to find the male.  After all it is because of him that we are out here.  To try to retrieve the data recorder/geo locater tag that we placed on him 5 years ago.

We look and look but we cannot find him.

So we stop the boat, turn out the lights and play the call of a loon yodeling.  As most of you already know, the yodel is the call made ONLY by a male loon.  And it is a territorial call.

By playing this call our intent is to make the male think that there is another male in his territory and hopefully he will answer and let us know where he is.

Sure enough.  It works.  And we hear him answer from half way around the lake.

We head over to the area of the lake and find him fairly quickly.

But it isn't going to be easy.  He doesn't have the chicks with him  and so as soon as we start to get close to him, he dives out of sight.  And then we have to try to find out where he comes back to the surface.  

This game of hide and seek goes on for several times.  It becomes obvious that we are not going to catch him.

So Kevin makes the decision to release one of the chicks in the hope that the chick and the male will come together and give us a chance to catch the male.

We release the chick and then sit back and relax.

In the darkness we can hear the chick calling.  And then a distant call of the male loon.

Just listening to them it seems like they are swimming toward each other.  But wait we must.

Then when the calling dies down it probably means that the male has found the chick and that they are together.  Now there is a chance we can catch him because he will tend to stay on the surface with the chick rather than diving out of sight.

Once again we scan the surface of the lake with the spotlights.

Fairly quickly we spot the male loon.  And yes, the chick is swimming right next to him.

We slowly make our way over to him, keeping the spotlights trained on him so that he cannot see us.

Once again as we come right up alongside him, Kevin makes an expert scoop with the big muskie net and the male loon is in the net.

Then comes the flurry of activity to try to gain control of him without hurting him or us.  He is extremely strong.

But we get control of him and put him in another plastic bin to safely hold him.

Now we must also catch the chick.  For the second time.

I joked about what must be going through the chick's mind - "Come on guys!  Didn't we just do this?!!"

With the chick safely in his plastic bin with the other chick, we now head back to shore.

Kevin removes the data recorder from the leg of the male and weighs the male and makes a number of measurements and draws a blood sample.

Now it is time to do the same thing with the female loon.

After the measurements are made and the blood sample drawn, it is time to place the bands on the female.  We gave her a red band on one leg and a green band on the other.

Now that the work is done, we take some pictures and then head back out onto the lake with the four loons.

Everything has gone very well.  And the credit for that goes primarily to the expertise of Kevin and Luke who have done so much of this type of work.

When we get back to the area of the lake where we captured them, we carefully release all 4 loons.

The chicks quickly find the parents and the four of them swim off together seemingly none the worse for the experience.

And next year we will be able to tell whether it is the same pair that uses the LoonCam nest.


Copyright 2017   Larry R Backlund



Friday, June 23, 2017 1:42 am CDT

58 degrees    Clear   Wind Calm

Sunrise  5:26 am CDT    Sunset 9:05 pm CDT


It has been a good night!

I have just gotten in off the lake with Kevin Kenow and his crew from the USGS.

We were able to capture our male loon and retrieve the data recorder/geo locater that he has been wearing for the last 5 years since we put it on him in 2012.

We also captured the female and both chicks.  We were able to band the female so next year you will be able to tell if it is her that comes back to the LoonCam again.  She now has a red band on one leg and a green band on the other leg.

But I am going to bed!

I will give you a more detailed report in the next couple days.


Copyright  2017   Larry R Backlund



Wednesday, June 21, 2017 4:02 pm CDT

88 degrees  Sunny   Wind 3 mph S

5:26 am CDT    9:04 pm CDT

Summer is here!

Meteorological summer arrived about 11 pm last night.  And today is an absolutely wonderful relaxing summer day here in Minnesota.

The sun does not set until 9:04 pm for several nights this time of year.  And then the magical times of long twilight.

But what makes it even better is that the loons are swimming by out in front right now as I speak!

I have not seen them for the last 3 days.  And I have wondered how they are.

I have been gone so much again the last few days that I have not seen them nor had the time to look for them.  Two nights ago I heard them call from halfway around the lake.  When I went down to look I saw an eagle flying over that part of the lake.  But I could not see the loons.

So it is SO good to see them again right now.

The chicks have grown SO much.  They are now about half the length of the adult loons!  

They are hardly like the little chicks that we saw leave the nest two-and-a-half weeks ago.  They still have their down which has now turn to a dark brown.  They can now dive for short periods of time.  But they are still almost totally reliant on their parents to bring them food.

And that is what they are doing right now.  Both adults are busily bringing minnow after minnow to the chicks who eagerly gobble them up.

They look good.  They look healthy.  And they are very active.  

As the adults dive for minnows and fish (yes, by now they can eat small fish, not just minnows), they peer underwater to see what is going on down there.  I would also like to be able to be with them and peer down on the adults going after the fastest of little fish.

It is so gratifying to see them still not only surviving, but thriving.

Tomorrow night we are hoping to go out and capture the male to remove the data recorder that we put on his leg back in 2012.  It will be good to retrieve it and download the data to see where all he went after we banded him and put the data recorder on his leg.

It probably has not been recording anything for the last 3 years or so.  They are designed to record data for about a year.  But the experience has been that they have recorded data for 2 years.

So hopefully we will gain much more information about our loons in general and this loon in particular.  Where did he go after he left the lake here that fall?  When did he make the migration down to the Gulf?  Where did he spend the winter on the Gulf?  When did he come back in the spring?  How high and fast did he fly?  How deep did he dive?  Did he make the trip in one long phenomenal flight?  Or did he stop somewhere along the way.

So many questions.  And hopefully soon a few answers if we are able to capture him tomorrow night.  If we do, then begins the long task of analyzing all the data.

The chicks are still too young to be able to band them tomorrow night so that probably will not happen.   Whether Kevin feels like he should capture the female and band her tomorrow night is questionable.  We will have to wait and see.

So think of us tomorrow night.  In the darkest part of the night, probably sometime after midnight we will be out on the lake trying to find the loons, capture the male and retrieve the data recorder.

If we do, I will try to tell you what the data shows when I get a report on it.

But right now, everything feels right with the world.

And with our loons!


Copyright  2017    Larry R Backlund