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

Sunday, July 13, 2014 9:43 pm CDT

61 degrees F     Clear     Calm

Sunrise   5:37 am CDT     Sunset   8:59 pm CDT

I just wanted to give you a quick update.

Just today I received word from the United States Geological Service that they are planning to be here tomorrow night to try to capture the loons and to remove the data recorders.

Those data recorders have been recording everywhere the loon has been since July of 2012, or however long the batteries lasted.

It will be a massive amount of data that will add to our understanding of loons, especially what they do and where they go during the winter.

In the months ahead, the USGS will undertake the massive amount of work in downloading the data and analyzing and interpreting it.

We will start shortly after dark.

The moon is almost full so we hope that will not hamper the capture.  But it very well could cause problems in catching the loons.

In addition to removing the data recorders that were placed on the loons 2 years ago, we will band any unbanded loons that we catch - including, hopefully, the two chicks that you watched being born on the LoonCam this year!

I will give you an update of what happens and how it went.

Questions?  LoonCam at yahoo dot com

Copyright 2014     Larry R Backlund

Saturday, July 12, 2014 5:39 am CDT

66 degrees F     Hazy     Absolutely Calm

Sunrise   5:37 am CDT     Sunset   9:00 am CDT

There is a haze hanging in the air.

The far shore of the lake is softened by a whitish bluish brush stroke from the humidity paint.

There is not a ripple on the lake.  Every detail is perfectly reflected in the absolutely calm water.

That is no ripples except for the line of ripples caused by something swimming out towards the middle of the lake.

A straight line from east to west.

Our loon family is out for their morning swim!

Mom, dad and the two not-so-little chicks.

This afternoon, one of the chicks is already 5 weeks old!  And the other will be 5 weeks old tomorrow afternoon.

Can it be?

Can it have all gone so fast?

It has.  And both chicks seem to be doing well.  They have grown so much.  They are now in their 'teenage' stage.  Their down looking a little more tousled.

They still eagerly accept minnows and fish from mom and dad.  But now they are able to eat fish that are a little bigger than minnow size as well.  The will, however, eat absolutely anything that is offered.

They can now dive with a little more ease but they are still almost totally dependent on their parents to supply their food.  Soon they will start catching more and more of their own food.

But what is that?

There is another single adult loon swimming out on the lake.

And over there to the left is a PAIR of loons.

Loons loons everywhere you look loons.  We are more than blessed.

A couple days ago I was out in the canoe looking to see if I could find the new chick that was hatched on the other nest on the lake.  I was very surprised to see 5 adult loons swimming together.  FIVE!  I never did see the new chick.  But I wondered if it was sheltered under the wing of one of the 5 loons.  Even that did not make sense that they would be swimming with other loons if they had a new chick with them.

I have no explanation.

More questions than answers.

In talking with someone who lives over on that part of the lake a couple days later, he said he wondered if that chick had survived or not.  He had seen the pair of loons but he had not been able to see a chick.

I know that a chick hatched because the remains of the eggshell were on the empty nest.  But we will have to wait to see if we see the chick or not.  Hopefully he is alive and well.  There are SO many dangers in those first few days and weeks for a tiny little loon chick.

This next week the USGS is planning to come up here to the lake.  We are hoping to catch the loons that we banded and put data recorders on  two years ago.  

For the last two years, those data recorders have been recording everywhere the loons have been and what they have been doing.  A WEALTH of information that will add so much to what is known about loons, but especially add to our knowledge about where they are in the winter and what they do.  That whole part of a loon's life has so little knowledge that we know for sure.  And this will add to that big empty space of knowledge.

But we have to catch them first to retrieve the data recorders.  And then the USGS can download the mounds of data and analyze it.  A daunting task for sure.

We know that the male on the LoonCam is the one we banded two years ago.  But the female is new and with any luck, we hope to catch her and band her as well.  AND to band the two new chicks from the LoonCam.

And then we will see if we can catch the other FIVE loons and see who they are.  And band them as well, if necessary.

It will be a LONG night.

We will go out on the lake shortly before midnight and work until the first glint of daybreak appears in the eastern sky.

I don't know for sure which night it will be until the USGS is able to finalize their schedule.  But they are hoping to be up here on Monday or Tuesday night.

In one of the future blogs, I will be sure to give you a report of what we found and how it went.

But for this morning, rest assured that "our" loon chicks are thriving.  Growing.  And getting big.

What could be better than that?!

Questions?  LoonCam@yahoo.com

&copy Copyright 2014    Larry R Backlund