Monday, May 17, 2010 6:18am CDT

43 degrees  Clear   Calm
A single wail pierces the stillness of the morning air.
As usual, our loon on the nest is awake and aware of everything going on around it.  Is the wail a call to its mate telling it that it is time to come and exchange places on the nest?  Or is there some other meaning?
There are all other kinds of birds singing and calling.  Red-wing blackbirds and purple martins and finches and robins and orioles and crows and Canada geese.  There is even a dog yipping somewhere in the distance.
Not a breath of air is moving and the surface of the lake reflects every detail.
But what stands out in all of this is that single cry of the loon.
It is hard to miss.  And it is impossible to ignore.
With everything else that is happening, that is the one thing that captures and demands your attention.  It is the thing that stirs something deep within you.  A call that goes back through the ages.  A call that brings back the memories of untold canoe trips through the wilderness.
A call that brings back memories of fishing trips.  And of summer weeks at the cabin.
No other sound on this spectacular Minnesota spring has the capability of evoking all those emotions and feelings that the call of the loon does.
Several have already posted links and information about the different calls so I will not repeat it all here.
But let me just summarize the 4 calls of the loon and what they mean.
There is the wail (which we just heard), the tremolo, the yodel and the hoot.  (Click on the name of the call to hear it.)
The wail is a call which says to another loon 'I am here.  Where are you?'
The tremolo is a call which expresses concern from the loon.  It may be concern about something in the area that is too close or it may be concern over an eagle that is flying overhead.  It is often referred to as the 'laughing call' for obvious reasons.
The yodel is a call that is only made by the male.  It is a very aggressive call that says, 'This is my territory.  Don't come near.  I am ready to defend my territory.'
The hoot is a very quiet call that most people have never heard.  It is used by the loon to communicate with its mate when they are swimming close together or for the parent to communicate with the chick as they swim together.
I often times refer to them as two 'good' calls and two 'bad' calls, although there is really no such thing as a bad call.  They are simply calls which speak volumes when you know what they are saying.  But I call the tremolo and the yodel 'bad' calls because they are alarm calls.  When you hear either of those calls, it means the loon is concerned or upset about something.
I have to admit that I enjoyed loons calls a whole lot more when I didn't know what they meant!  I could just sit back and revel in the laughing tremolo of a loon echoing across a northern lake as we sat around the campfire.  And listen to it echo back and forth.  Then would come the tremolo from another loon on some other part of the lake.  It was magic.
But now when I hear a tremolo or a yodel, the two alarm ('bad') calls, I now immediately wonder, 'What is wrong?  Where is the trouble?'.
The two 'good' calls are the wail and the hoot.  They do not convey any concern or alarm from the loons.  They are simply ways for the loons to talk and stay in touch with each other.
All of the calls except for the hoot are high volume calls meant to be heard across great distances.  And that is why they are so distinctive and stand out from all the other calls.  It is almost impossible to ignore the call of a loon as it carries across a still lake at night and echoes from one end of the lake to the other.  And immediately transports us to another place and time.
But there is yet another call that you have heard on the LoonCam microphone this year.  A call that is not well documented at all.  I called it 'mewing' based on a single reference from a study published in the 1950s.  Mewing is an appropriate name since it almost sounds like a cat mewing.
I think that a case can be made that it is a fifth call that is separate from the other four.  It seems to be used mainly during the nest building and mating period.  It is used sometimes after but its frequency is greatly diminished.  Iit deserves to be studied and analyzed some more.
There may be some who would classify it with the hoot.  But I would submit that it is a distinct call from the hoot.  It certainly needs more study.  But in the wild one would very seldom ever have the opportunity that you have had to hear this unique call since it is so quiet and seems to be used only when the loons are close to each other.
I have listened from shore, only a hundred feet away, when the loons have been mewing to each other and I cannot hear it...even at that close distance.
There is also yet another call that you may have heard this year.  It is a short two or three note call given by the female that seems to be almost an invitation to the male to mate.  I have heard it at no other time.  It is close to a hoot call but it is distinctly different.
So once again there is new information that may be coming from the wonder of the LoonCam!
Information that adds to our body of knowledge about these wonderful birds that we call the Common Loon ...... but they are anything but common!
But today on this beautiful morning, rather than getting all wrapped up in the minutiae and details of every action and sound of the loons, just sit back.  Watch and listen with a renewed sense of wonder about the miracle that is happening right around you if you will only take the time to relax and to drink it in!  
And realize one more time what a magnificent and stunningly wonderful world we have been given.