Final Reports from Fall 2009

Here are three reports from Fall 2009 about our loons that for several reasons I was not able to get posted.  Enjoy.


Thursday, September 10, 2009  3:30pm

72 degrees   Sunny

September has been a very nice and warm month so far.

I haven't posted much about the loons lately since there has not been much to post.  This afternoon I saw one of the adults and one of the chicks swimming together and fishing.  The 'chick' is now almost full size.  About the only way that you know it from its adult parent is that the chick still has its grayish/brownish plumage.  It does not have the black and white plumage that we 'northerners' associate with loons.  But it is very typical of the winter plumage of adult loons that southerners are familiar with....that is if they are even aware of loons.

For you see when loons fly south for the winter, they lose their striking black and white coloring and just become these drab gray/brownish water birds.  But that is only one of their changes.  While they are on their southern wintering grounds, they also go almost totally silent!!  So two of the things that make them such special birds of the northern lakes are completely gone.  It is no wonder that most people in the south really do not understand why we think they are so special.

Minnesota's loons typically will migrate to the Gulf of Mexico.  A few of them will make their way to the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to the Florida coast.  Many of the loons of eastern Canada and New England will winter off the New England and Nova Scotia coasts.  And the loons of western Canada will normally winter along the California coast.

One of the interesting things about New England loons is that they are actually slightly larger and heavier than other common loons.  It is thought that it may be due to a shorter and less stressful migration since they normally migrate a much shorter distance.

I have not seen all 4 of our loons together since my last update on August 8th.  I have no reason to believe that there is any reason for concern but once in a while the question crosses my mind of why I have not seen the other chick.

At this stage in their development, the chicks are more independent and are able to fish and survive on their own.  They are now also able to fly although I have not actually seen either of them flying this fall.  The adults are getting ready to fly south for the winter.  Typically about this time of year the adults begin to gather together in large groups called 'rafts'.  The territorial urge has almost totally disappeared and they will gather in large groups  of sometimes several hundred as they prepare to fly south.

They will gather on large lakes such as Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota and also on the Great Lakes.  In fact, the importance of the Great Lakes cannot be underestimated for loon's fall migration.

The adults will fly south usually sometime between mid-September and mid-October.  And then in one more of the amazing things about loons, the chicks will not leave until about a month later!  Never having been to the Gulf of Mexico they will find their way down there on their own.  And then they will STAY there for three years before they make their first return trip back to their favorite Minnesota lake.  It is one of those 'I don't know how you did it but God you done good' moments about loons.

So this season rapidly starts to wind down and soon our loons will be on their way south.

And our days will be quieter and poorer without the beautiful calls of our loons.

But then we can always look forward to seeing them again next spring!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009  2pm

54 degrees  Hazy

Today has been a day of taking in the pontoon and the dock.

This afternoon I was surprised to hear the call of a loon!

It seemed to be coming from far across the lake.

I could not spot it with the naked eye but when I got the binoculars and the telescope....sure enough!  There was one of our loon 'chicks' lazily swimming and fishing all the way across the lake, barely visible through the haze.  It was good to see that it was still doing well.  Although once again I only saw one of the chicks.  There was no sign of either adult being around and would guess that the adults are already on their way south.

The first half of the month of October has been the coldest ever on record here in Minnesota.  We got some snow on the 10th (the earliest in 24 years!) and several inches of snow on the 12th and we had some snow every day last week!

Soon the chick will also need to think about flying south.  There is a very real danger that if they do not leave soon enough, they could be trapped by forming ice.  And that would be a death sentence for them.  Even if a lake is not frozen over, the amount of open water could get small enough that a loon would not have enough room to successfully take off.  And the consequences of that can be fatal.

How do they know when to leave?  How do they avoid being frozen in?  How do they find their way south to the Gulf of Mexico when they have never been there before?  And they have no adults to guide them?

These are just a few of the many wonderful and amazing things about loons.  We think we know so much.  But then realize that we know so little!


Saturday, November7, 2009

66 degrees   Sunny and beautiful

While doing winter preparation yard work this afternoon, I was startled to hear what I thought was a loon call.  Could it be?!  Was is actually a loon and was it one of 'our loons'?!  Why haven't they gone south?

Then I heard it again!

It definitely WAS a loon call.

I hurried to the house to get the binoculars and the telescope.

I looked and saw nothing.  It sounded like it came from way across the lake.  But I saw nothing.

After several minutes of watching, I thought I saw something but I could not be sure.  And I could not find it with the telescope.

But then all of a sudden there it was!  It surfaced!  It WAS a loon!  And it was an immature loon, probably one of our chicks from this summer.  It dove repeatedly as it fished.

When it came up one time, I called to it.  In the telescope, I could see its head perk up.  It obviously had heard the call and wondered where this other 'loon' was!  And then it answered.

From its swimming and diving, it was obviously healthy and in good shape.  It was good to see it again.

But there was also a tinge of concern.  It was getting late in the season and it needed to be ehading south before it got trapped in ice.  Would it make it?

But there is nothing I can do except observe.  And hope.  They know so much more than we will ever know.

So it is with a mixture of hope and a little concern that fills me right now.  Hope because the chick is still alive and apparently doing well.  Concern that it needs to 'get on the road'!  The lake will probably freeze over completely in the next few weeks.  And the young loon needs to leave BEFORE that happens!