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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 3:01 pm CDT

68 degrees F     Mostly Cloudy     Wind 8 mph NW

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

SUCCESS!!

Last night was a cold, windy rainy night on the lake.  Especially for the middle of July.

But the good news is that we were able to catch both adults of our LoonCam loons as well as both chicks.

My thanks to Kevin and Luke and Steve from the United States Geological Service [USGS] for the wonderful work they do with loons and for allowing an 'amateur' to join them.  They are just great people.

It was not looking promising for our venture for most of the day.

All afternoon there were periods of heavy rain as well as high wind that whipped up whitecaps on the lake.  It is hard enough to see a loon on the lake in the best of conditions, let alone having to deal with the 'white' of the whitecaps looking deceptively like loons at times.

We got started shortly after 9 pm as we did a quick survey of the lake.  We were able to locate our LoonCam pair with the two chicks, all swimming together.  We were also able to locate the pair on the other side of the lake, the ones that had one egg hatch on their nest about a week ago.

And then we sat and waited for dark to come.

In the north, it takes a long time for it to get dark even at this time of year a full month away from solstice and "midsommardagen".

At about 10 pm, we decided to start looking for the loons, even though there was still light on the horizon in the northwest and the northern sky.  We were also in a race before the bright moon that was almost full last night came up.

After some looking, we were able to capture the male from the LoonCam [the one we had banded and put data recorders on in 2012] as well as one of the chicks.  The full moon was now up and hiding in and out among the clouds.  But definitely bright enough to make things more difficult.

It was really surprising to see the chick close up and see how big and strong he is! 

Now it was time to see if we could catch the female and the second chick.

This proved to be more difficult.

When we found them, she took off like a shot splashing and rowing across the surface of the water.  As we followed quietly in the boat with the lights trained on her, she kept going and going with only brief rest stops.  And then she was off again.

I commented that is was as if she said, "You're on your own kid.  I am OUTTA here!"

Her behavior wasn't too surprising since she had been so skittish on the nest all year.  When it was obvious that she was not going to settle down, it was time to return to see if we could find the chick.  

After some time, we finally located the second chick.

But she had taught him well.

He was not going to be taken easily either.

Time after time he dove to get away from us.  All the tricks failed.

We finally had to admit that he was the winner in this game of cat and mouse!

The chicks definitely are doing well!

We brought the male and the chick back to shore where the guys could do the work that needed to be done.

Removing the data recorder from 2012, drawing blood, taking feather samples, weighing and taking other measurements.  When the work on the male was done, he went back in his crate and out of the smaller crate came the chick.

It was very interesting to now see him in full light.  And to see how large he was.  And how feisty!

At one point I commented that it was hard to believe how much he had grown in only 5 weeks.  That his head alone was about the size of the little chick that we saw jump into the water for the first time on that Saturday night.  For it was only 5 weeks ago this last Saturday afternoon that you watched him hatch LIVE on the LoonCam!

He was definitely bigger than our little chick from 2012 at the same age.  The chick who loved the nest!

The chick already has some of his primary flight feathers on his wing coming in as well as some feathers starting to show on other parts of his body.

We all commented at how big and strong he was for only 5 weeks old.  And we agreed that the parents must have been feeding him well.

He already weighs about 4 1/2 pounds!

He got his new bands.  One of the guys said, "Larry maybe isn't going to like the colors of these bands."  I joked, "As long as they are not green and yellow!  [Green Bay Packers colors]".  Ummmm, guess what?

They were mostly green and yellow!

We may need to sneak over to Wisconsin some night and put a bunch of Vikings Purple and White bands on loons as well as Minnesota Gophers Gold and Maroon bands on Wisconsin loons!

Then it was time to take both of them back out to release them about where we had caught them.

We headed over to the other side of the lake so see if we could find and catch the other pair of loons.

I know that they had one egg and that the egg had hatched.

But I had not seen that chick.  Nor had any of the people over on that side of the lake.  They were concerned that we maybe had lost that chick.

But with hope against hope, we went to see if we could catch them and hopefully find that there was a new week old chick with them.

After searching and calling, we finally found the pair again swimming close together..

As we started to approach them, they both took off in opposite directions.  "Running" and paddling and splashing.

This was not going to be easy.

And it wasn't.

We followed one of them for a ways but he was just as skittish as the female had been.   After some trying, it became obvious that we were not going to catch them either.  And it was also "obvious" that the chick must not have survived and was not with them.

As we sat in the dark waiting and listening for them, we heard two loons flying overhead, calling as they flew.  It must have been the pair we had been trying to capture.

We headed back over to the other side of the lake to try to capture the female and the second chick.

We were finally able to catch the female, although almost made it out of the net as she was swung into the boat.  But we got her.

And once we located the second chick, it was a little - emphasis on 'little' - easier to catch him on this try.

So we headed into shore with the female and the second chick from the LoonCam safely in containers in the boat.

Once again, weight and measurements and bands.

The female was a different one than the one we had banded in 2012 and she was not banded.  So she got her new set of bands.  And the chick also got his new set of bands.

The second chick was just as big and strong and feisty as the first chick.

It was so gratifying to see them so big and so strong and doing so well, especially with the reminder that we have apparently lost the little chick from the other nest.  And knowing that they have already faced such dangers and survived them.

Now it was time to take them back out onto the lake and release them.

It was now after 3 am.  And it was time to call it a night.  

So you can be happy today that the little chicks that stole your heart a few weeks ago are strong and thriving and doing well.

They are well on their way to 'being loons'!

Questions?  LoonCam at yahoo dot com

Copyright 2014     Larry R Backlund