Tuesday, May 25, 2010 5:47am CDT


64 degrees  Clear  Calm


The familiar and reassuring silhouette of a loon outlined against the pink glow of dawn reflected in the surface of a northern lake says that all is still well with our loons.

One more night under the belt.

One day closer to the expectation of two new baby loons.

The promise that the faithfulness of our loon parents will pay off with a new generation. 

While we were asleep, they did not have the luxury of 'sleep'.  At best they could nod off for a few seconds at a time.  But they needed to always be aware.  Always on guard.  Who knew what could happen at a moment's notice?  Everything could be for naught if they let down their guard for even a little bit.  

All the work and energy of producing the two eggs.  All the time spent sitting on the nest.  The interminable hours in the hot sun.

It could all be gone in a moment if they let down their guard.

And so this morning, the loon is still there.  Still on guard.

I have been doing a study over the last several weeks of their "sleeping" while they are on the nest.  If you can call it sleeping.

I don't think anything like it has ever been done before.  Because until the LoonCam and the nightvision, no one has ever had a chance to observe a loon up close during the night.

What I have found so far, after hundreds and hundreds of measurements, is that the longest the loon ever closed its eyes at one time was 47 seconds!  47 seconds!  And then the eye would be open again looking around for any danger.

Imagine how you would feel in the morning if the longest time that you closed your eyes at night was 47 seconds!

That was the longest!

Most of the time the loon's eyes would close for only three to six seconds!  And then it would be open again.  Watching.

Talk about faithfulness!!

Now these measurements are brand new.  But there have been hundreds of them so I think that a very reliable pattern is emerging.  And the average time that a loon has its eyes closed all night is only 3 to 6 seconds!

I don't know about the loon that is floating out on the lake all night.  If their sleep pattern is any different than the one on the nest.  But I have no reason to believe that it would be different.  It is just that there is no way to verify it.

Just one more amazing fact about our amazing loons.

Watch for something else today.  We always think about our loons being a stark black and white.  But our loons could not settle for something so mundane even if it is beautiful.

When the light strikes the loon at just the right angle, amazing COLORS appear!  Watch for it.

There is a distinct iridescent green to the black feathers of the head.  The first time you see it you do a double take and think that your eyes are playing tricks on you.  They are not.  The color is actually there.  A beautiful green overlaying the deep black of the loon's head.

But even more striking is another color that emerges in just the right light.

The "collar" around the loon's neck will glow a bright turquoise green!!  The collar that we had only seen as black, glows turquoise.  Yet one more amazing fact about our beloved loons.

A couple days ago, we talked about how a loon's leg is positioned so far back on their body that it is very difficult if not almost impossible for them to get around on land.  We even did an exercise with our arms so that we could feel what it is like for the loons.

That is the reason that loons need up to a quarter mile of open water to be able to take flight from a lake.  They will run across the surface of the lake with their big webbed feet while they mightily flap their wings to gain enough lift to get their heavy bodies airborne.

But that is also a great danger for loons.

If they come down on land, they will not be able to take off and they will die unless they are rescued!  Or if they come down on a body of water that is too small, they will not be able to take off and they will die.

I was part of the rescue of a loon a few years ago that had landed on a small pond in the pasture of a farm.  It was not able to take off.  And it would have died if it was not rescued.  Fortunately we were able to rescue it and bring it to a nearby lake where nothing was injured but its pride.  We think it may have been forced down during a thunderstorm the night before.

There have been instances of loons landing on highways or parking lots that look like rivers or lakes on a rainy day.  And once on the ground they are trapped unless someone can rescue them.

There was a tragic story of a two loons last fall that did not make it off their lake in northern Minnesota in time.  Ice formed and soon there was not enough open water for them to take off.  And they froze in the ice.  One loon was rescued and flown to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota but unfortunately it could not be saved.

So many dangers.  So many challenges.  So many things that we are unaware of.

But today our loons are there.  Ready for anything.

Except maybe the heat.  Today promises to be another day of high heat and high humidity.  Not the kind of weather that is ideal for loons to be sitting on a nest under a hot sun.  But they have done it before.  And they will faithfully do it again today.  To keep their charges safe and to keep their own rendezvous with destiny.

May we do the same!