Sunday, July 18, 2010 11:42pm CDT

61 degrees  Calm
In the last installment of the story of implantation of satellite transmitters, the second loon was undergoing surgery to implant the transmitter.
This surgery was almost identical to the surgery on the first loon that I described to you.  So I will spare you from repeating all of that.  However, the surgery was going a little bit faster.
After about 30 to 45 minutes, the doctor had finished with the surgery and brought that loon out from under the anesthetic.
Now it was time to attach bands to the leg of the loon as well as a data tracking tags to the leg of the loon.
Each of the loons has a silver metal US Fish and Wildlife Service band attached to the leg.  This band has a unique number code which identifies that particular loon allows one to trace a history of when and where it banded.  In additional to the numbered tag, each loon receives two or three colored plastic bands on their legs.  The color combinations are recorded and gives a unique color combination for that particular loon which is kep on file.  For instance, it may be "on right leg red band over blue band".
No color combinations are repeated so if you report a particular color combination, the USFWS is able to access the records for that particular loon and no others.
But attaching the colored bands in addition to the numbered band, an observer can simply observe the color of the bands on the leg through binoculars and know exactly which loon they are observing.
Banding is what I would like to do at some point with the loons on the LoonCam.  That way we would know for sure if it is the same pair that return to the nest each year.  Or if it is the same mates.  It would have answered some of the feeling and speculation that this year we may have had a new pair take over the LoonCam nest.  But for now we can only speculate.
The data recorder that was also attached to their legs is an amazing piece of technology in and of itself.  It is able to track the loons position of longitude and latitude, altitude or depth and temperature.  This data is recorded within the small unit which is about a third the size of a AAA battery and should record for one to two years!  This unit does not transmit the data and must at some point be recovered and the data downloaded.  But since loons usually return to the same territory, there is a high chance of recovering the recorder.
The technology behind these recorders is truly amazing but I will not take the time to go into it right now.  Besides that, I am not sure I understand all of it!
Now we had two loons in carrying crates, recovering from the surgery.  Not a very fancy recovery room but one that was fully adequate for the purposes.  
But now all the work had been done on the loons from these two lakes....two males and two chicks.  And we waited for the loons to recover sufficiently so that we could return them to their lakes.  It was now about 2:30am and everyone was feeling the effects of the long day.  But each of us was excited about the success of the night so far.
When both loons seemed to be reasonably recovered from the surgery, the decision was made that it was time to return them to the water.  So we loaded them into the vans and off we went for the short drive to the first lake.
The first loon was taken out of its crate and set gently in the water.
But surprising, it just sat there.
None of us mouthed the thoughts, but I think it caused a minor concern in all of us.
Normally when you release a loon, they will quickly row with their wings to get away from you and fast as they can and will only settle down when they are 50 feet or more away from you.
But this male just sat there.  No hurry to get away from us.  Even when gently prodded he only swam a little ways away.  Then he swam under the dock and sat under there.  He seemed to be doing fine but he obviously was still feeling some of the effects of the anesthesia.  He had no problem holding his head up or we had discussed recapturing him if there seemed to be any real problem.
For someone used to watching loons, he was an unusual sight with an antenna sticking up above his body, much like a radio controlled car!
But after some time of watching him to make sure he was ok, it was decided that he would be fine and it was time to release the second loon.
So back in the cars and off to the second lake which was very close by.
When we released that loon, we had the same results.  
Rather than the loon quickly trying to get away from us, it just sat there.  Looking fine.  Looking content.  But in no hurry to rush off into the darkness of the lake.
Once again I think all of us thought it but did not verbalize it.  We all wondered if they were ok.  We all hoped they were ok.  We all thought they were ok.  But they did not try to move away quickly like we would have expected.
So we stood and watched for some time.
The loon looked fine....other than for the strange antenna protruding above its back!  There was nothing that indicated any distress or anything to be concerned about.  But you could not help being slightly concerned when they did not do "what they should do".
So we waited.  And watched.  And wondered. And hoped.
But after sometime, there seemed to be no reason to be overly concerned.  The second loon sat and floated.  Fully in a 'normal' posture.  Just not trying to get away.
So we left with a nagging question in the back of our minds.
We had another lake to do.  More loons to capture.  And we were running out of darkness.
Most of the group left us after we released the second loon.
And the rest of us headed to the third and final lake.
It was less than an hour away but it was a drive to this lake.  We got there about 4:30am.
There was just the slightest hint of light in the northeastern sky as the capture crew pushed off from the shore.  I pointed them to an area of the lake where I thought I saw ripples on the water in the faint light that was available.  The lake was almost perfectly still.  Was it the loons swimming in that area of the lake?
The capture crew headed toward that area of the lake.
Back and forth they went in search of the loon family.  Then there were recorded alarm calls coming across the lake.  And answers from some loons.  It was hard to tell which was real and which was Memorex!  Then there were the spot lights and you could see the white breasts of the loons as they came into the calls.
After a number of lights and tries, the canoe headed back across the lake toward the landing.
Did they have loons on board?
There now was definitely light on the eastern horizon.
When they reached shore they reported that they had almost had the loons in the net several times.  But it was just light enough for the loons to be able to see them and to get away from them.f
There would be no more loons captured this morning.  There would be no more chicks.  I would have to wait until another time to be able to hold a live loon chick.  I have to admit I was disappointed.  I wished more and more that I had left the first surgery for even a few minutes to go out and see the two chick that had been captured on the first lake.  But it was what it was.   It would have to wait until another time.
So our evening/morning was over!
We had successfully accomplished most of what we had set out to do.  It had been a success.
Now it only remained to find out if the transmitter worked properly and was able to communicate with the satellite and transmit data.  AND to find out if the two loons recovered from the surgery.
But for now it was time to go home and go to bed after a long day.  The USGS crew and the doctor headed out to find a motel to try to get some rest.  They had several MORE nights of this in Wisconsin where they were hoping to implant another seven transmitters in loons.  It would be a long week for them.
There is good news in a post script.
Later in the day, Carol was able to observe and report that all loons, and especially the two that had undergone the surgery, seemed to be doing very well.  That was very good news and I think relieved all of the concern that we had when they did not swim away from us quickly when they were released.  It indeed seemed that it was just taking a little while for the anesthesia to work its way out of their system.  And now that it had, they seemed to be doing fine.
Also, later in the day Kevin reported that he had been able to check the satellite transmission and the units in the loons were transmitting data successfully!
All of that was VERY good news.
I have asked Carol if she will report periodically what she sees with these loons so that you can keep up to date with them.  Also, Kevin had said that he would be willing to send me a link to the satellite data so that YOU can keep track of where the loons are, especially when they start migrating this fall!  How exciting will that be?!  You will be able to track their migration to see if they go to the Gulf of Mexico or to the Atlantic Coast.
And we will be able to track their migration back north next spring!
Or hopefully we will be!
Sometime soon I will try to do a post about the oil spill and what to watch for.  I think it is one big question mark for ALL of us at this point.  No one knows for sure what is happening to the chicks that are down there right now.  I have gotten one report that some loons have been found dead but I want to get some more verification of that before I say much more.  And then we do not know what will happen when these loons get down to the Gulf, if that is where they ultimately go.
Plus, even without the concern of the oil spill, there is just SO much that is not known about loons when they are on the ocean.
But these satellite transmitters and data recorders and bands should help fill in some of the blanks in our knowledge about loons!