Wednesday, May 26, 2010 6:00am CDT

57 degrees  Clear  Calm
After record breaking heat and humidity the last several days, a front has come through bringing some relief to our loons.
The forecast for today is for sunshine, low winds and temperatures about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Much more comfortable than what they have been having to deal with.  Many areas received good rain as the front moved through but here it was just enough to tease us.  Fortunately there were only scattered reports of any severe weather.
The end is now definitely in sight for the loons.
One wonders if they are able in any way to sense it.  It was three weeks ago today that the first egg was laid.  If we take the normally quoted incubation period of 28 days, that would mean that the first egg would hatch one week from today.  Most sources put the incubation period at 28 to 30 days, with some saying a day or two shorter.
However, over the last few years with the advantage of having the LoonCam, we have been able to document at least two occasions where an egg has hatched at 25.5 days.  So to a certain extent, the LoonCam has been enabling us to understand better and to even rewrite some of what we know about loons.
Stop to think about it.  Previously researchers were hard pressed to tell exactly when an egg was laid.  If they were lucky enough to be out in a boat observing from a distance, it was unlikely that they were lucky enough to actually see the egg laid.  And they were also hard pressed to tell exactly when the egg hatched.  With the LoonCam, we have been able to document to the minute when the egg was laid.  And we have been able to tell within a couple hours of when the chick actually hatched.  So the precision is much greater.
So the 'normal' incubation time would put the hatching at one week from today or later.  My guess [and understand it is only a guess] would be that it would hatch earlier than that.  In fact if I had to guess, I would guess that it could very well hatch on Memorial Day....Monday.
So now we wait.
Along with the loons, we wait.
But stop to think of the miracle that has been happening over the last several weeks.  If all has gone well, within those eggs under that loon that you are watching right now there is a chick!  Now having developed far enough that you could tell that it was a loon chick.  Bones and beak.  Skin and black down.  Internal organs and eyes.  The characteristic big feet of a loon.  
And a heart that is already beating!!!
What scientist could create life like this?!  None could even come close.
We can only stand back and marvel at the miracle of creation that we are watching.
If you haven't already done it, now is the time to tell your kids and your grandkids and the neighbor kids to watch.  To tell your friends and neighbors and co-workers of what is happening and let them join you in this miracle.   Now is the time when the excitement begins to build.  Who can even describe that magical moment when you first see the head of a little black ball of down peek out from underneath its mother's wing?  To see a new baby loon chick moving under the wing.  It has been known to bring a tear to more than one eye.  To be able to be such an intimate part of the wonderful web of life.
But alas, that time can be too fleeting.
For within 24 hours of hatching, the chick gets off the nest and into the water.  From that point on he is in his element that he was born for.  He is a waterbird.
Someone asked if the warmer weather could speed up the hatching of the chicks.  It is possible but the effects are not clearly understood.
The times when we have been able to document hatching at just over 25 days were during periods of cooler than normal temperatures.  There have been some that have speculated that cooler temperatures keep the loon on the nest more and therefore actually provide ideal incubation conditions that speed up the hatch.  Who knows?  There is so much that we do not know and are just learning about loons.
There is also something called 'egg speed up' or 'catch-up' where the second egg hatches faster than the first egg.  Even though the egg this year was laid 2 1/2 days after the first egg, it will probably hatch within a day of the first egg hatching.  It will literally 'catch up'.
While it is not well understood, scientists have documented that chicks will actually communicate with each other by peeping while they are still inside the egg!  Whether that is part of what speeds up the development of the first chick or whether it is that the first egg is not incubated as much initially is open to speculation.  So many questions yet to be answered.
But for today, our loons continue the long vigil.
Ever alert.  Always faithful.  Always there.
Other things can wait.  Today there are little chicks inside those eggs that need tending!