Monday, May 11, 2009 6:52am CDT

34 degrees Clear and Sunny Wind Calm

Once again this morning, our loon sits quietly on the nest. Ever faithful in keeping the eggs warm during the cold overnight hours. Even though it is above freezing right now according to the thermometer, it did fall to 31 degrees overnight and there is still frost - or more appropriately frozen dew - on the car.

But the first rays of the morning sun have hit the nest and the loon and will help to warm things up.

Today temperatures should return to more normal for this time of year in Minnesota with highs in the upper 60's. The loons made it through a relatively light fishing opener here (what with the cool weather and winds) and today promises to be a fairly quiet Monday with most people back at work. But you (and the loons) can never be sure what each day will bring.

This year I have noticed more defensive posturing (with the head down) than in past years. Or at least it seems like there has been more of it. This morning there have already been a goose that swam fairly close to the nest and a duck. The loon went into the "I'm hiding" posture until they passed and then was sitting back up again.

But there have been many times that I have seen them in this defensive posture and when I went to look could see absolutely no reason for it. But obviously THEY have a reason and we can only guess.

This morning there is another pair of loons on the lake. So that may be adding to the concern this morning. The male (or at least the loon not on the nest) has gone out to meet them and set up sort of a "blocking move" as if to say "This close and no closer!".

There has not been a fight that I have seen this morning but there will be if they try to approach the nest.

A couple of you have commented and asked about other loons on the lake. Normally we have had only this pair of loons on the lake that have stayed. But several of us around the lake have spotted up to 3 other loons on the lake at times in addition to "our pair" of loons. Are they some loons trying to set up their own territory or are they loons just passing through on their way farther north? I don't know. Only time will tell.

I have wondered if some of the loons that have stopped have been our chicks from previous years. Because the commonly accepted wisdom is that the young loons will not only return north after 3 years but they will RETURN TO THE SAME LAKE THEY WERE BORN ON! Once again one of those wonderful miracles about loons. So it is possible that these are the young from 3 years ago. There is no way to know for sure. Or they could be other loons just be passing through or other loons trying to set up their own territory.

If it is other loons setting up their own territory, we can be assured that there will be fights between them and our loons. We have already seen a couple fights this spring. Let's hope that it doesn't happen because our loons need every bit of strength that they have to raise their chicks. But it is only something that we can watch and wait.

I mentioned in another blog entry that loons main weapon is their long and very sharp beak. They are very effective at using it in a fight. There have been cases know where one loon has killed another loon with that sharp beak in a fight. It is known as a "sternum stab".

One loon will come up under another loon underwater and literally stab them in the breast (or the sternum) with that very long sharp beak.

During a fight you will often see when one loon dives, the other loon will dive as well or at least put its head under water. This is to try to prevent thenselves from being stabbed in the breast by the other loon.

I think I saw it actually happen a couple years ago. Our loons were fighting with another loon when all of a sudden the loon on top of the water literally jumped straight up out of the water. And then the other loon surfaced right by him. Fortunately the "jumping loon" was ok and left the area right away. But I think I had just observed a "sternum stab".

Some of you will remember me telling you a couple years ago about a loon rescue I did. The loon had somehow ended up in a very small pond. Too small to take off from. We are not sure how he ended up there  but he may have been forced down by a severe storm that had gone through the area. But if he was not rescued, he would die.

During the rescue, when he saw he could not get away from me, he came at me. All the time stabbing at me with that sharp beak. I was able to capture him and release him on a nearby lake. As we were transporting him, I became acutely aware that if he ever got that beak loose he would immediately go for my  face or my eyes!  I was surprised at how vulnerable I felt.  And he was doing everything he could do to get loose from me.  They are amazingly strong birds.   Fortunately I was able to do it without either one of us being injured!

So let's watch today to see what new challenges and adventures our loons face.

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