Monday, August 17, 2015 11:27 pm CDT

60 degrees F   Cloudy   Wind Calm

6:16 pm CDT    8:17 pm CDT

 

I think all of are still reeling at the loss of our LoonCam male loon.

I still find it difficult to comprehend that it has happened.

We know that things like this happen in life.  But too many times we have a pollyannish and unrealistic view of nature.

Hopefully we can at some point find out what happened to our male loon.

I took his body to the DNR.

Right now it is at or on its way to a large necropsy lab over in Wisconsin for study.

Carroll Henderson, who I appreciate so much, has said that there is a very good chance that they will be able to determine the cause of death.  And also tell us a lot more about him.  Mercury levels, lead levels, if there has been any Gulf Oil contamination and a host of other things.

But he cautioned that it could be well into next year before we will find out any of those answers.

So let's hope that they are able to give us some answers of what happened.

I also wanted to let you know about the chick and the female.

After I had retrieved the loon, I went out on the lake specifically to look for the chick and the female.

I found them and they seemed to be doing well.

I was a little surprised at how close the chick was staying to the female.  Almost right up against her.

Whether that has anything to do with what happened to the male I cannot say.  But it sure made me wonder.

Normally the chick ventures further and further from the adults when they reach this age.  And I have seen that over and over during the last few weeks.  The chick would be in the same general area of the lake as the adults but would be far from them.

But that night at least, the chick seemed to be determined to never be more than a few inches away from his mother.  It was an interesting thing to see.

The main thing for you to know is that both the chick and the female seem to be healthy, active and doing well.

Let us hope that both of them continue to do well and safely make the trip down to the Gulf.

And then next spring we will see if she returns to the nest.

It will be interesting and educational to say the least.

 

Copyright 2015   Larry R Backlund

 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 5:41 pm CDT

84 degrees CDT   Clear and Sunny   Wind   3 mph SW

Sunrise  6:10 am CDT     Sunset   8:25 pm CDT

 

I am afraid that I have some bad news for you.

A neighbor stopped by a little while ago and I have just returned from their place.

I now have a dead loon in a plastic bag in the trunk of my car.

My neighbor's son was the first one to spot the dead loon on the beach.  (Thank you Chase and Jason!)

All we know at this point is that it washed up on shore sometime between Sunday night and Tuesday morning.

What is so disheartening is that it is the male from the LoonCam.

The male that we watched with such suspense and heartbreak as he tried to decide whether to take care of the chick in the water or to stay on the nest and take care of the second egg.  You will remember that difficult evening of watching the desperation of the male trying to decide what to do and the helplessness that we all felt.

Tomorrow I will take him to the DNR to see if they can determine what the cause of death was.

I looked and could not see any signs of fish hooks, fishing line or large cuts from an encounter with a boat motor.

Without going into too much detail, there had been predation on the neck and along the right side near the wing.

There was a small northern nearby that had also been partially eaten.

The neighbor had said that his wife had seen an eagle down on the shore yesterday morning apparently eating something.  She did not think much of it since they had seen eagles down there before.

But apparently it may have been the eagle that caused the predation damage.

Now a huge question for next spring is, will the female come back to the LoonCam?

Will she find a new mate?

Will she nest next year?

Or will another pair of loons take over the LoonCam?

Will she be able to take care of this year's chick all alone?  

What effect will this death of the male have on the chick?  Fortunately the chick is now big enough that he is catching some of his own food.  And in the next few weeks he will start his first tries at flying.

So we sadly say farewell to our male loon from the LoonCam, who we have come to know and love.  The male who has been so faithful to the nest and to raising the chick.  The male who has several other offspring to carry on his bloodline.

And who will be greatly missed.

 

Copyright 2015    Larry R Backlund

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, July 31, 2015 7:36 am CDT

65 degrees F     Sunny     Wind  4 mph NW

Sunrise   5:56 am CDT     Sunset   8:42 pm CDT

 

It is a spectacularly beautiful Minnesota Morning!

Bright sun.  Blue sky.  Pleasantly cool temperatures.  Light breeze.  And low humidity.

And BLUE MOONS.

And LOONS!

What could be better?

Right now there are 4 huge white birds out on a blue lake with small wavelets stirred up by the breeze.

What are they?

They are four huge white pelicans!

They probably won't stay.  But pelicans do stop over on the lake periodically.  On their way from where to who knows where.

They are beautiful birds and surprisingly large birds.  One of the largest birds in North America.   They can have a wing span up to 10 feet and weigh up to 20 pounds!

 Normally they would be much further north this time of year, even up to the Arctic Circle and across the Canadian Prairie Provinces.

But it is a privilege to have them periodically stop here on the lake which they have increasingly done over the last few years.

But you didn't come here to learn about white pelicans.

You want to know about loons.  And one loon in particular.

That little loon chick from the LoonCam is doing well.

In fact, it doesn't even seem right to call him a 'chick' anymore.  Probably the term 'juvenile' would be more appropriate.

He is almost full size and now has the characteristic profile of a loon.

He will be 9 weeks old this coming Monday.  It is hard to believe how fast time has flown and how he has grown.

Almost all of his fluffy brownish gray down is gone, replace by sleek feathers.  Still gray with slightly lighter spots that foretell the beautiful white spots that he will one day have on his deep black background feathers.

He dives with ease and quite possibly is catching some of his own food.  Although he still relies on his parents and eagerly accepts any fish they bring him.

The three loons still stay close to each other most of the time.  Relaxing.  Swimming.  Preening to keep their feathers waterproof and in good condition.  Foot waggling.  And times of intense feeding where there is dive after dive for fish.

And always on the lookout for danger, especially eagles.

Early yesterday morning at sunrise I had gone down to the lake to see if I could spot the loons.  Sure enough, there they were.  Not too far away.  They were feeding.

As I turned to go back up to the house, I heard their 'unique' call that I have come to know as the 'eagle alarm call'.

It is so hard to describe as to  what differentiates it from other calls.  But it is a call when I hear it I know almost with certainty that an eagle is around.  It is most similar to the WAIL call that you all know so well.  Or a variation of the wail.

But it is shorter.  More truncated.  Not as melodious. With a slight rise in pitch at the end.

I am not sure if I could argue that it is a separate call from the 4 commonly accepted calls.  But it is different.  And as you know we have documented other calls such as the 'mew' that are distinct from the 4 basic calls.

And this "eagle call" almost always signals that the loons have spotted an eagle.

When I heard them make the call [just once], I stopped and looked around to see if I could see an eagle nearby.  I didn't see one.

But then in the early morning sun a huge shadow passed over me, the dock and the water below.

I looked up and not more than 20 feet above my head was a mature bald eagle illuminated by the morning sun and silhouetted against a deep blue sky!  His white head and tail feathers almost glowed in the bright morning sun  Made even more spectacular with the blue  of the sky in the background.

I almost felt like I could reach out and touch him.  Like I could count every feather if I had the time.  I could see him looking down at me.

It sent chills of wonderment  down my spine.

The eagle continued on his flight and flew up into a large tree along the lake at a neighbor's place a number of doors down.  A tree where they seem to like to perch as they watch for prey or where they may fly with a freshly caught meal.

The loons had made only the one 'eagle call' because the eagle was moving away from where they were.  They signaled 'danger' but only while the danger was there.  And since the eagle moved on quickly, they relaxed and resumed their quest for fish.

There is so much more to tell you of loons and eagles and swans and pelicans and monarch butterflies and countless other things.

But some of those things will need to wait until later.

There is too much to do and too little time to do it.

But life is wonderful.

And I hope that wherever you are, you stop and marvel at the Creation that is all around you.

We take it so for granted in the busyness of our lives.  We never stop long enough to actually see it.

Whether it be a loon or an eagle or a pelican.  Or the marvelous detail of a flower and its petals.  Or the butterfly that visits the flower.

But how refreshing it is to our very souls when we stop and look and listen and watch with wonderment the marvels of nature God has placed around us.

May your soul be refreshed today!

 

Copyright  2015  Larry R Backlund

 

Monday, July 6, 2015 11:26 am CDT

64 degrees F     Raining     Wind 8 mph N

Sunrise   5:31 am CDT   Sunset 9:03 pm  CDT

 

It is a cloudy, cool, rainy morning.

A grayish haze obscures the far shore of the lake.  A combination of rainy mist and 'fog' from the lake.  Waves roll in, occasionally accented by a white cap.  There is a misty, moody, mysterious calming effect about all of it.

Somewhere out there are our loons.  They are in their element.  And probably much more comfortable  than they were in the heat and humidity of the last few days.

Some pretty strong thunderstorms moved through in the middle of the night.  Fortunately we did not get any severe weather here.  Just a lot of rain.  Maybe a couple inches at least.  There were a couple places in the area that got an amazing 6 and 7 inches of rain.  But nothing like that here.

But there was a LOT of thunder and lightning!

The arrival of this rain should clear out some of the haze and humidity and heat and smoke that we have had for the last few days.  Yes, I said smoke!

We have had a lot of haze and spectacular sunsets and moonrises from forest fires all the way up in northern Saskatchewan!  The smoke has been heavy enough that the air in the northwestern part if Minnesota has been declared unhealthy.  It is hard to believe that the smoke has made it this far, but it has.

I have seen our loons numerous times over the last few days.

And the most important thing that you have been wondering about is - our chick is doing well!

He survived the VERY heavy boat traffic on the lake over the 4th of July weekend.

He has grown so much.

It is hard to judge size from a distance.  But I would guess that he is at least  10 inches long!

A far cry from the little guy we saw jump into the lake when he was only 2 hours old.

He still has his gray down rather than feathers.  And he is able to dive easily now, for up to 30 seconds at a time.  But he still relies on mom and dad to supply his meals.  And both of them have been doing a good job at keeping him well fed.

Eagles continue to be a matter of concern for our loons.  And they let it be known whenever an eagle is in the area.

 But so far our chick is safe from the eagles.  They have dove on the loons numerous times but they have not been able to take the chick.  And he is big enough now to be safe from big bass and northern pike although a snapping turtle could still do damage.

Many of you will recognize the name of Kevin Kenow from the USGS.  Kevin is the person who is the chief researcher on the loon studies that the USGS is doing.

Kevin will be giving a presentation this Wednesday evening at Itasca State Park here in Minnesota.  Itasca State Park is where the mighty Mississippi River begins its 2350 mile journey from Minnesota down to the Gulf of Mexico.

If you are in the area, I am sure you would be fascinated to attend Kevin's presentation and hear the results of some of the research that is being done with our loons.

If you have never checked out the USGS website that shows where the juvenile loons that were implanted with satellite transmitters last summer, you would find it very interesting.

So very little is known about the activities of juvenile loons.  We knew that they went down to the Gulf or the Atlantic coast.  And we thought that they stayed there for the first two or three years of their lives.

But with the knowledge from these satellite transmitters, everyone has been absolutely amazed by what we are seeing.

Three of the juvenile loons left the Gulf of Mexico in May and went up to the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

No one ever knew or suspected that they would do something like that.

It is known that loons from the Northeast feed on a very nutritious small fish up in that area.  But no one ever thought that juvenile loons from Minnesota would make the long trip up to the Maritimes, especially when they are still less than one year old.

How did they know?  Who told them about these fish?  How did they find their way?

Once again, the more we learn the more we realize how little we know and how many more questions there are to be answered.

You can view the latest map of the juvenile loon's locations at:

http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/terrestrial/migratory_birds/loons/migrations.html

May you continue to enjoy your summer months.  And enjoy our loons.

 

Copyright 2015   Larry R Backlund

 

Sunday, June 21, 2015 12:03 am CDT

63 degrees F     Clear     Wind Calm

Sunrise   5:25 am CDT     Sunset   9:04 pm CDT

 

After some heavy thunderstorms moved through last night, today turned into a beautiful sunny day.  

They were predicting the possibility of damaging winds but fortunately we did not get any of that.  It was very calm.  Just heavy rain.

Now to the thing that you want to really know about.

Our chick is doing well.

I really do not get to see him all that often.  For some reason this year they have spent most of their time about a quarter of the way around the lake.  I am usually able to find them with binoculars but not able to see much.  There have been a number of days where I ahve not even been able to spot them.

On those days I have to admit that my heart skips a beat wondering where they are and if the chick is still ok.

But he is doing well.

They were a little bit closer this way this afternoon so I could see them a little better.  I would guess that the chick is now about 6 to 8 inches long.  It is hard to believe how much he has grown.  But then  we have to remember that he will be three weeks old on Monday.  My how time flies.

I heard the loons calling so I went to check to see what was happening.  They were making the call that usually signals that an eagle is in the area.  And sure enough.  There were TWO eagles fishing in the area.  And the loons did not like it at all.

But fortunately the eagles did not target the loons or the chick.

In fact, when one of the loons swooped down and grabbed a fish out of the water and started to fly away with it, the other eagle went after him and tried to steal the fish.  They disappeared behind a tree so I didn't see who won that contest.

You will also be interested to know that the egg that did not hatch is now on its way out to the University of Connecticut for study.

The U of CT has been doing a study for the last several years trying to determine if there have been effects from the Gulf Oil Spill from a number of years ago.  So they will use 'our egg' to see if there are any petroleum components or dispersant chemicals in the egg.

If I hear any of the results, I will let you know.

When I brought the egg to Carrol Henderson, it was a good chance for us to catch up.  I have mentioned Carrol Henderson before.  He is in charge of all the non-game wildlife programs in Minnesota.

Carrol has been very supportive of the work that I have done with the LoonCam.  I turn to him often for advice and counsel.  There is very little that I do that at some point I have not talked it over with him.

But what most people do not realize is what a treasure Carrol Henderson has been to not only Minnesota but many other states as well.

He was the person responsible for the reintroduction of trumpeter swans to Minnesota.

He was telling me how he flew to Alaska and came back with 50 eggs for each of the next 3 years.

They did not know if they would be successful in establishing a breeding population in Minnesota.

In their dreams they hoped that at some point there might be 300 breeding swans.

The latest estimate is that there are probably 2500 breeding pairs of swans and a total of 10,000 swans in the state!   He said, "We sort of overshot our goal!"

He also told me a story about something that had happened in just the last few days.

There was a bald eagle that was killed in New York state on June 2nd.  It was hit by a car as it fed on a rabbit along the road.

When they recovered the eagle, they saw that it was banded.

By tracking the band, they found out that the eagle was originally from Minnesota.  And it was 38 years old!

And Carrol is the one that captured that eagle chick here in Minnesota and sent it out to New York.

At the time, New York had only one pair of one-producing eagles.

Carrol captured 4 eagle chicks and sent them out to New York to try to re-establish a breeding population there.  New York now has 350 breeding pairs of eagles!

It is the oldest eagle that has ever been documented.  And it started its life here in Minnesota!  Carrol said he was so surprised because an eagle 20 years old is considered a very old eagle.  He said he would never have guessed that it would last for 38 years.

And undoubtedly that Minnesota eagle helped New York to now have a breeding eagle population.

Through a 12 year period, Minnesota sent 55 eagle chicks to 5 different states to help them establish bald eagle populations.

At the time, bald eagles were almost facing extinction in the Lower 48.  Minnesota had 600 to 800 eagles at the time.

Now Minnesota has over 10,000 bald eagles, the most in the Lower 48 states.

I said to Carrol, "You sort of overshot your goal on that one, too!"

You can check out the eagle story in the Thursday, June 18th edition of the Minneapolis StarTribune.

http://www.startribune.com/nation-s-oldest-eagle-dies-was-born-in-minnesota/307941131/

What a privilege we have of being a part of and observing and learning about such wonders of nature.

 

Copyright 2015   Larry R Backlund