Thursday, May 20, 2010 7:48am CDT

53 degrees  Clear  Calm
Once again it is a spectacular day for the loons.
The lake is like a mirror that reflects a blue sky with a few high wispy clouds.
The loon on the nest already has its beak open panting.  The other loon sits in its own reflection not too far away.  The mayfly hatch is now in full swing as more and more mayflies fill the air in their own mating dance.  Pieces of "cotton" float on the still surface of the lake from trees that are also involved in their own circle of life.
The next few days are forecast to be warm and sunny and calm.  Days that we love but that can be a little too warm for a loon sitting on a nest.  The black of its plumage absorbs a lot of that sunshine.  You can expect to see the loons 'panting' more as they sit in the warmth of the bright sunshine and possibly also take a cool dip in the lake once in a while.  They would probably prefer cooler weather but this is certainly something that they are used to and have contended with for eons.
With the bright sunshine, this is a perfect time to watch for something else.
We know the loons as these birds with the striking black-and-white plumage.  That is true but not totally true.  The black is indeed black.  But not just black.  Plain old black would be too mundane for these amazing birds.
When the sun hits them just the right way, you may see two additional colors...almost illusory but very real.
The black of the head has a deep green sheen to it.  Almost an iridescent green sheen in certain light.  And the black color around the neck actually turns a turquoise green when the light strikes it just the right way.  The first time you see it you think your eyes are playing tricks on you.  Wasn't that collar on the loon black?  Now it is the brightest turquoise green color.
So watch for that today.
There is another thing to watch for with the calm water today.  It is the perfect time to see it.
As a loon swims by the nest, try to get a view of the loons legs as it swims.  You will see that they are way at the back of the loons body and sort of splay off to the sides.  It is not what we think of when we think of a swimming duck or goose.
If you see it, you are also seeing why a loon is so clumsy on land.  You have watched that 'clumsiness' each time the loon has gotten up on the nest.
A loon is almost helpless on land and finds it very difficult to get around.  They are unlike a goose or a duck or a swan or chicken who can easily walk around on land.  Why is that?
Do something for me as I explain why.  Follow along with the motions I describe.
Hold your arm out and look at it.  Spread your fingers.
Let me use a chicken as an example since most people are familiar with seeing a chicken.  Your hand  would be equivalent to the feet of a chicken and your fingers the toes.  
Now look at your forearm.  That is the same as the lower part of a chickens leg.  And your biceps of your upper arm would be the same as the 'drumstick' on a chicken.
Now move your hand and arm like a chicken walking.  As you can see, you can move it in almost any direction and a chicken has no difficulty walking because it can do the same thing.
Now do something else.
Hold your upper arm tightly against your body - pretend that it is taped there or is caught inside your shirt or your blouse.  Don't let it move away from your body.
Now try to 'walk' like you did before when you were a 'chicken'!
It is a whole different feeling, isn't it?  You do not have near the mobility or flexibility or control that you did before.  Wave your lower arm and your hand around while you continue to hold your upper arm tightly against your body.
You have just illustrated to yourself why a loon is so clumsy on land [and you have also probably just illustrated it to all your co-workers and family who are around right now.  They probably are looking at you and wondering what you are doing.  It is a perfect time to illustrate and explain it to them!  Just tell them that you have gone 'loony'!].
Unlike other birds, the 'drumstick' of a loon is totally enclosed in body skin.  It is not free to move like a chicken can do.  It is wrapped tightly inside the loon's 'shirt'.  They cannot move it freely.
So that is why a loon walks on land with such great difficulty.  They are almost helpless on land.  And the name 'loon' is thought to come from the Scandinavian word 'lum' which means clumsy.
And it is also the reason that its legs come out of the body at the very end of its body instead of in the middle.  When you see them swimming like I suggested that you watch for today, you will see the legs are WAY back on the body rather than under the middle of the body like a duck.
Just one more of the amazing things about our amazing loons on an amazing spring day.
May today be amazing for you in every way!