Friday, June 12, 2009 9:08 pm CDT


64 degrees  Sunset    Wind S3mph 


The sun has just slipped below the horizon and God is painting the canvas of the sky with reds and pinks and golds and purples.

The colors are reflected in the waters of the lake that are almost completely calm.  There are only a couple boats on the lake fishing.  Everyone else has gone home.

And there are OUR loons!  All four of them.  Mom and dad and the two chicks.  Swimming and diving and eating.  Or just floating calmly on a peaceful, colorful northern lake.  They are home.  They are doing well.  And they are relaxed.  Right now all is almost perfect in their world.

Today they have spent more time on this side of the lake than I have seen for the last several days.  It is good to see them a little closer where you can see more detail with a pair of binoculars.

A neighbor on the other side of the lake told me last night how surprised she was by how big the chicks were already.  She said, "They must be at least six inches long!"  And I agree with her.

Seeing them on this side of the lake today only reinforced that assessment.  They do have to be at least six or seven inches long already.  They are no longer the tiny little balls of fluff that we saw on the nest.  But they definitely are still very much chicks and still covered with the black or dark gray down.  They are still almost completely dependent on their parents for food.

But we have just passed one of the most important landmarks in their survival and development.  Once they have passed the two week mark, which they did on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, their chances for survival increase significantly.

They are almost safe from predators like northerns and bass and muskies.  A little more vulnerable to snapping turtles but increasing their chances with turtles, too.

The two biggest dangers they now face are from the air and on the surface of the water.

From the air, they are still very vulnerable to bald eagles.  An eagle can easily take a chick.  In fact, an eagle is one of the few predators that can even take an adult loon.

But it is on the surface of the water that the most danger comes.  And that is from man.  Speeding boats and jet skis can run over and kill a chick (or even an adult) without even being aware that they have done anything.

So as summer now begins and more and more people are out on the lake in their boats, the loons have to be ever aware of what is around them and what is coming at them.  And they must be prepared to dive quickly to get out of the way.  But that is where the chicks are still at a disadvantage.  They can do some diving.  But they are far from proficient at it.  Even if they do dive, they may not be able to get deep enough to escape the hull of the boat or the propeller of the motor.

So their odds of survival have gone up significantly with the passage of the two week anniversary.  But they are hardly home free yet.

This afternoon I heard numerous alarm calls from out on the lake.  When I went to see what was upsetting the loons, I saw two young kids in a kayak or canoe.  Obviously they had come too close to the loons.  And the loons were not shy about letting them know.  There was calling.  Yodeling.  Splashing.  Diving.  Half flying half walking on water.  Aiming directly for the kayak.  Then splashing and yodeling.

Unfortunately the kids did not speak "loon".  They did not realize what the loons were trying to tell them.  All they knew was that this was pretty cool.  Loons so close to them.  Making so much noise.  Doing all their acrobatics.  And the kids were loving every minute of the show!

Two other loons even came from across the lake to investigate all the commotion.

This was the stuff of dreams for kids.  To see so many loons.  To see them so close.  To see them splashing all around.  To hear their loud calls.  I am sure they were convinced that the loons were putting on a show just for them.

And in a way that is true.  But from the loons perspective, it was not a "good" show.  It was a show of fear and danger and concern and aggression to drive these intruders away from their chicks.

I remember many, many years ago having the same kind of encounter out in the wilderness before I could "speak loon".  I remember how cool I thought it was that the loons came right up to us.  How wonderful it was that the loons did that for us.  How special it was to have that encounter.  How amazing it was to see them and hear them right next to the canoe.  So I do not fault the kids at all.  When you do not know what is going on, it is a very special experience.  But it just points up the need for continuing education.  Once you know what the loons are saying, it takes on a whole new meaning of what is going on.

And if you simply and quietly leaving the area, they will soon calm down and take care of their chicks.  And if you stay more than 300 feet from them, you will not disturb them at all in most cases.

Fortunately in this case, I heard an adult on shore call out to the kids and tell them to come in.  And the loons almost immediately calmed down.

So tonight you can relax.  And know that our loon family is doing well and the chicks are healthy active and growing so much.