69 degrees Calm
On a calm evening under a sky with more stars than one can even imagine, from across the lake comes that sound that all of us love! There it is again. One of our loons giving a long, beautiful wail.
The call pierces the darkness.
There is nothing like it. Once you have heard it, you will never forget it. And you long to hear it over and over and over. In the quiet of the night, it fills everything with its sound. And we are reminded again how blessed we are to hear it. How blessed we are to have these beautiful birds that add so much to the richness of our lives. To be one of the bright but haunting colors in the tapestry of life. That blend so beautifully with everything else but still stand out so brightly that you cannot ignore them.
This is an evening that is repeated across countless thousands of lakes of the north country. Repeated for those who are laying in their tent. Repeated for those who are sitting around a late evening campfire. Loon calls that are burned into the memory forever.
The stuff of legends. The stuff of dreams.
The stuff of memories.
The events of Monday night were also the stuff of memories.
As I mentioned, after we had had a group briefing about what would be happening, the capture team headed out to the first lake about 1030 pm. There were a group of students from St John's University and the College of St Benedict who been working on naturalist studies and a couple of them had already been studying and monitoring these loons as part of their studies who followed the capture team to the shores of the lake to watch the captures.
One of the professors, Carol Jansky, at the College had been an ardent follower of the LoonCam and it was through the LoonCam that she contacted me to have them considered to be part of this project.
While they headed out to the first lake, I stayed behind to help the doctor prepare the area where the surgery would take place and to learn more about the actual procedure and the satellite transmitter that would be surgically implanted in the loon.
It took them some time to return with the first captured loons. But return they did at about 11:30pm.
The first carrying crate with the male loon was brought into the trailer where the surgery would take place. Everything was laid out and ready to go. But when that carrying crate was brought in, it changed the feel of everything. This was now real. We had a real loon with us in the trailer!
There were several subdued wails that came from within the crate.
Then the time arrived to begin.
The lid of the carrying crate was carefully opened just slightly. And then one of the capture team reached in to take hold of the loon and get control of his bill.
Out he came. So beautiful. So magnificent.
So out of any element that he had ever been in.
There were a couple more calls.
He was placed on his back on the surgical table. It would be an understatement to say he did not like that. And he struggled mightily as the person from the capture team struggled to hold him and maintain control of him.
An IV was inserted in his leg and blood samples were drawn for future analysis, including checking for mercury and any other possible probelms. And some of the sample will be stored for future analysis in case something that we do not even know about or cannot even imagine crops up at sometime.
And then the anesthetic was gradually administered through the IV.
The loon quit struggling and then began to go limp.
Before the capture team had returned with the loons, I had asked the doctor what anesthetic he would be using. He said that he would use propofol. I started to say, "That is the drug that....."
But before I could finish my sentence, he finished it for me. "Yes, that is the Michael Jackson anesthetic"!
I was not prepared for the effect that it had on me. When I saw this magnificent bird go limp, there were a whole flurry of emotions that flooded over me. I knew that the loon was ok and was in good hands with the doctor who had done numerous waterfowl before, but that did not make it any less easy. I was not prepared for my own personal reactions. These beautiful birds that I have worked with so closely for so many years. And here was one that had gone limp in front of my very eyes. At the briefing, we had specifically talked about the possibility of losing a loon. The chances were VERY small. But this was real life and real life does not always do what you want it to do.
My mind told me it was ok. My heart dredged up every possible emotion. But it was important to keep those emotions out of it.
There was a gaggle of people arrayed at each of the windows of the trailer looking in. They had a front row seat in this improvised "operating theatre". A "MASH" hospital. Noses were pressed against windows as they were no more than 2 feet away from this loon on the table. Now on his back.
The doctor inserted a couple tubes down the loon's throat. One for breathing. The other, I am not sure what it was for. This was not the time to be asking questions. This was now into the very serious part of the operation.
Here was this gorgeous male loon laying motionless on his back on the operating table. Tubes in his throat. An IV in his leg for the anesthesia. Periodically the air bag [I don't know the proper technical terms for some of the equipment] was given a gentle squeeze or two to help him breathe and to make sure he was breathing.
The doctor felt around the leg where it exited from the body skin. We have talked about that before...about how the 'drumstick' part of a loon leg is totally encased in skin. The doctor felt around the area to determine exactly where to make the first incision.
There would be one incision on the underside of the loon where the satellite transmitter would be implanted and a smaller one where the antenna to the transmitter would exit the body.
When he determined the areas for the incisions, he carefully and gently separated the feathers on the upper side and began to prepare a sterile field with alcohol and Betadine and then tape and a plastic sheeting.
The procedure was repeated on the underside where the larger incision would be made. The pure white feathers were carefully separated to expose as much bare skin as possible. You will also remember that loons do not have a bare patch of skin called a brood patch with no feathers. So the feathers had to be carefully moved back to either side of where the incision would go.
Outside, the other part of the capture team was working with the two chicks....placing bands and data recorders on them. I could see them outside through the windows working on the other loons.
But inside, the moment of truth had come!
It was time for the first incision.
[to be continued....I know, I know, I can hear some of you screaming at me now! Don't do this to us! But it is too long for one post tonight. So I will continue it tomorrow. I have one other thing that happened tonight that I wanted to share with you.]
After a couple of meetings today, tonight we went to the Munsinger Clemens Gardens in St Cloud, MN. They were having an Art Fair in the Gardens today and tonight. If you are ever in the area, the gardens are spectacular and are right along the banks of the Mississippi River. They are well worth a visit.
And then to have scores of artists there displaying every kind of work possible and having an orchestra playing under the trees on the banks of the Mississippi in the midst of the gardens on a stunning Minnesota evening made for a time could not have been better no matter how hard you tried.
[By now you are probably saying 'He interrupted the story that we wanted to hear about the loons to give us a travelogue?!?!?' Stay with me. This is amazing!]
We looked at all the different displays of all the artists. On the way there, I had said I was not going to purchase ANYTHING!
And I fully intended to stick to that.
But the first display I stopped at was a young photographer who especially did a lot of photography of Split Rock Lighthouse. Split Rock is a spectacular lighthouse high on a rocky cliff on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It is an iconic structure to any Minnesotan.
I looked through some of his pictures and there were several of the "I gotta have that" category. But as he and I talked, I told him I would stop back later rather than carry then around the gardens. I am sure he has heard that line a thousand times and knew that I would not come back. And I was trying to talk myself out of buying the pictures. And so off we went to some of the other artists and the gardens themselves.
But the more I thought about the pictures, I knew I wanted to go back and look at them one more time when we were ready to head home.
After several hours of taking in the gardens and the orchestra and all the different artists, it was time to think about heading home. There was something else I saw that 'I had to have'!!
It was a beautiful small slab of polished black granite where the polished surface had been cut away to reveal a beautiful soft silver gray mottled background. But left in highly polished black granite in relief was a picture of two loons, a 'line' of water and the motto "Friends Welcome". Like I said, it was a 'gotta have'.
After I had broken my promise not to buy anything, I headed back to look at the Split Rock Lighthouse photographs.
I found the two that I had picked out before. Fortunately (or unfortunately!!) they were still there. I purchased them and talked to John, the photographer.
He saw the granite carving and was admiring it. I said something to the effect 'I am sort of partial to loons' or something like that. That was a mistake! Or maybe NOT!
He said, "Did you see my loon photographs?"
I had not.
He pulled out several of them and they were very nice. But I have so many loon pictures that I do not have room to display all of them at any one time....so they rotate. But then he said something that changed everything.
I asked where he had taken them and he said "On St John's Lake last year."
I said that I had never heard of St John's Lake. Where is it?
His reply stunned me.
He said, "I can never remember the name of it. But it is on St John's University campus."!!!!!!
I literally got shivers!
I said, "Sagatagan or Stumpf Lake?"
"Yeah that is it. Sagatagan. I can never remember that name so I just call it St Johns Lake."
I was almost speechless! I said, "John, you are NOT going to believe this but I was part of a team on Monday night that captured the loons on Sagatagan Lake and implanted a satellite transmitter in the male and banded the chicks and the female!!!! THIS is the loon that we implanted the satellite transmitter and this fall you will be able to follow him online as he migrates south!!!!!"
I think both of us were stunned!
So needless to say, several more loon photographs were added to the bag with the Split Rock photographs!
I could not believe the coincidence!
OR....was this more than coincidence? More than happenstance?
Was it something else?!