Friday, May 28, 2010 6:30am CDT

53 degrees  Clear  Calm
Blue sky.  First rays of sun peeking over the horizon and hitting our loon on the nest.  Birds singing.  Wisps of fog dancing on a totally calm lake.  
Can there be anything more perfect?!
Today it is forecast to be in the mid-80s for temperature and blue sky and sunshine.  A perfect summer or spring day!
First of all, I just want to say "HI" to all of the students in classes all over who are watching the LoonCam!  Thank you for watching.  I hope that you are enjoying this wonderful, unique view into the life of "your" loons.  Where else in the world would you ever have the chance to do that?  Tell your teacher thank you for letting you be a part of this.  And I hope that you get a chance to see the new baby loons when the eggs hatch!  We are only a few days away from that now.  Ask your mom and dad if you can watch at home, too.
Thank you to all of the teachers for exposing the kids to this wonder of nature, too.
Every day, we get one day closer to the eggs hatching and seeing two new baby loons.
It was three weeks ago tonight that the second egg was laid in the midst of a snowstorm!!!
Can that really be true?
Three weeks ago it was snowing?!!  And look at the beautiful morning that we are watching now!  How quick we forget.
But through it all the loons have been faithful.
Snow and rain.  Wind and waves.  Frost on the nest and blazing hot sun.  High humidity and wonderful dry air.
They have seen it all.  And they have faithfully sat through it all.  Always protecting those two precious eggs underneath them.
And inside those eggs, if everything has gone well, are two little downy loon chicks getting ready to make their grand entrance into the world!
The commonly accepted incubation time for loons has always been 28 days.  That would mean that next Wednesday the first egg would hatch and one week from today the second egg would hatch.  But nature has a way of surprising us and keeping us guessing.  If we go significantly beyond those dates, I would begin to get concerned that there is something wrong.
However, I expect that they will hatch earlier than the 'normal' expected dates.  I think it could be as early as this holiday weekend!  But as I said, nature has a way of keeping us guessing.  So all we can do is wait.
But a couple times over the last several years we have seen eggs hatch in twenty five and one-half days!  If that happens again this year, we could see one of the eggs hatch as early as Sunday night!
One of the miracles of hatching is something that is called "catch up".  Even though the eggs were laid two-and-one-half days apart, I expect that they will hatch within one day of each other.  It is one of those unusual things that nobody can completely explain.  There are a lot of theories of why it happens but no one can say definitively why or how that happens.
But I would expect that would happen with our two eggs.  Whenever it is that you see the first egg hatch, you can probably expect the second egg to hatch within a day or so.
And then the bittersweet time!  Within about 24 hours of hatching, our new little chicks will leave the nest.  Never to return.  From that point on they are totally water birds.  Completely at home in their element.
A couple years ago we saw something very unusual when one of the eggs hatched but the second egg did not hatch.  The loons kept sitting on the second egg hoping it would hatch.  And the first little chick was able to get back up on the nest.  And for almost two weeks we were able to watch the chick as it seemed to grow before our very eyes.
But that is unusual.  As wonderful as it was to see, the chick and the adults needed to be in the water and getting on with their lives.  For the chick to learn to do all the 'loon things' that it needed to do in order to survive.  And as soon as the non-hatching egg was gone, the bond with the nest was broken and they all got on with their lives.
There is something else that you can watch for today.
Watch for little flies that will fly around the loon and land on its head.
We have seen very little of them so far.  They have been there but have not been a great problem to the loons because of the wind and the heat.
These flies can bother the loons as much as mosquitoes bother us!
But there is something so unique about these flies.  They are a type of black fly that feeds almost EXCLUSIVELY on loon blood!!  Now there is specialization!  One has to wonder how such an insect even survives.  If it does not have loon blood to feast on, what does it do?
This phenomenon is fairly well documented.
Scientists have even taken loon skins that have been in storage for many years and laid them side by side with other bird skins.  These special black flies will swarm around the loon skin, even if it is years old, and will totally ignore the skins of ducks and other birds.
This is yet one more amazing fact about our amazing loons!
Now we begin the countdown to the hatching of our baby loons.  When will it happen?  Will it be this weekend or will it be next week?
Many people will be heading to the lake for this long Memorial Day weekend.  And you will be out on the lake in boats and canoes and jet skis.  But when you are out on the lake, you will be able to watch for loons with a whole new understanding.  You know what a loon looks like when it is sitting on a nest.  You know what they look like when they are afraid and defensive on the nest.  And now you know to quietly move away from the nest if you get too close.
Tell your family and friends that they should stay at least 200 to 300 feet away from any loon nest and you will have very little impact on them.  And while you are having fun with your fast jet ski and your fast speedboat, be aware of loons that are sharing the lake with you.
If we do, we can all enjoy the call of a loon on a quiet, calm lake at sunset.  That magical call that transports us to another world.  That immediately puts us "up north"!