Thursday, July 9, 2009 4:56pm CDT


82 degrees  Cloudy and Muggy  Chance of Rain   Wind S8mph


I had just gotten home a short while ago when I heard the loons giving a tremolo call, which is an alarm call.

When I went to look to see what was bothering them, I saw what I thought was the 2 chicks directly out in front.  And one of the adults in close to the dock, not too far from where the nest had been anchored.  Then I saw the other loon even closer in and over to the right a little bit.  It had its head underwater.  The other adult continued its calling.

I could not see any reason that it was disturbed.  No boats.  No fishermen.  No eagles.  Nothing.  But something was definitely disturbing the one loon.  When I looked back at the other one, it still/again had its head underwater.  Only the hump of its back showing.

The adult kept calling that tremolo alarm call.

I went to get the binoculars to see if I could see why it was so disturbed.  The chicks were swimming a little farther out.  Away from the loon that was calling.  But then my heart sank.  The other loon that I had thought had its head underwater watching, was not moving!  It had not raised its head at all.

NO!  Could it be?  Could it be that we had lost one of our loons?!

The other loon kept up its call, over and over and over as it looked at the floating shape and swam not too far from it.

I looked back out at the chicks.  Or was it two chicks?  Or was it one chick and one adult?  It was hard to tell since the chicks are getting so big.  It looked like the coloring of the chicks but I could not be sure.

The thoughts raced through my mind.  Would it be worse to lose a chick or an adult?  If it was one of the adults, what would happen.  It would mean that the other adult would have to do double duty in feeding and protecting the chicks.  And the chicks need for food at this stage is like a teenager at your house!!  They can feed themselves maybe some but for the most part they are still dependent on the adult.

I went down to the lake as the loon's calls continued.  It watched the floating shape.  It swam not too far away.  And it called over and over - continuously.

As I walked out toward where the carcass was floating, I became more and more concerned.  It definitely was not moving.  Had it been hit by a boat over the busy weekend and died?  My mind raced to think when I had last seen both adults.

As I got closer, I strained to see it better.  It didn't look like there was black and white plumage!  It was a mottled brown color.  Could it actually be one of the chicks?  I was still too far away from it to tell.  The loon kept calling and watched as I walked out.  It did not move away or become alarmed.  It simply kept calling.  Then it dove and came up not too many feet away.

Could all of the loons work and faithful parenting and protecting actually come to this?  To lose one of the chicks.  There were thoughts that I just wanted to put out of my mind.  And in the meantime the carcass just floated.  And the loon kept calling.

I wondered to myself what I should do.  I was prepared to retrieve it, bag it and freeze it until I could get it to scientists who could determine what had happened.

Finally I was close enough to make out some of the details of the carcass.

It is hard to describe the flurry of thoughts that went through my mind.

For what I could not make out from even 25 feet away was now obvious.  It was NOT an adult loon.  It was NOT a loon chick!  It was the bloated carcass of a snapping turtle floating half submerged!  A wave of relief washed over me.  But the loon still sat very near watching me and still calling.

It continued to call until I made it all the way back to the dock.  And then it stopped.  I am fascinated to think about what may have been going through its mind.  Did it finally stop calling because if I was satisfied that there was no danger, it could also be satisfied?

For about the next 10 minutes, it was quiet but it stayed between the carcass of the snapping turtle and the two chicks.  And then finally the three of them swam away.

I had to smile to myself after it was all over.  A smile of relief that it was not a dead loon.  A smile at how the mind can conjure up the most detailed stories of "what might be".  And especially a smile of relief that the two chicks are still doing fine and one of the parents was there with them still watching for any danger.  Even if the danger was the floating carcass of a dead snapping turtle!!