Wednesday, August 25, 2010 11:34am CDT

65 degrees  Partly Cloudy  Wind NNW 13mph
It has been a while since I last updated things for you but then there is not much to update.
It has been a number of days since I have heard or seen the loons.  But then I have been gone a lot and have not been out on the lake in a number of days.
When we last talked, there was the question of whether there was a 'dead loon' on the lake.  There has been no evidence of that and therefore I hope that the report was not true and was just a misunderstanding of some kind.  I have looked a couple times and numerous other people have also been looking.  If there had been something, I would expect that we would have found something.  But then nature also has a way of "cleaning up" after itself.
I would like to tell you definitively that I have just seen both loons and that they are both doing well.  I think they are doing well.  But I can't make such a statement since I have not seen or heard the loons today.
A couple weeks ago a lady on the lake asked me, "Is it just me or are our loons quieter this year than they have been in the past?"
I told her that yes they have been quieter than what we have been used to for years.  But that it is completely normal for that to be the case.  For two reasons.
First, at this time of year loons do become less vocal when they no longer have chicks to protect as much as when they are small.  And secondly, as they move out of the breeding/nesting season, they also become less territorial and therefore call less.  
So though we enjoy and revel in the calls of the loons, even the quiet can be a good sign that all is well.  It makes our loons even more special when we are given the privilege to hear them and see them for that all too brief window of time.
So once in a while over the last couple weeks, I have heard that wonderful, beautiful, haunting call floating across the lake at dusk or in the night.  But it has become unfortunately more of an exception rather than the rule.  They may already be gathering in large groups called "rafts" as they prepare to fly south for the winter.
As many of you already know, one of the loons in which we surgically implanted a satellite transmitter is already apparently on his way for the fall migration.  As of last week, he was on Lake Michigan near Green Bay.  This is both good and bad.  It is good because part of the reason for implanting the satellite transmitter is to try to find out why loons and other birds are being killed by botulism in the Great Lakes, especially Lake Michigan.  But that is also the bad part....the possibility that the loon may pick up botulism poisoning in Lake Michigan.
I think it surprised all of us that he headed out that early.  I know it surprised me.
I would have never thought that a loon that had chicks would have left them that early in the season.
I would have been surprised that one of "our" loons, who did not have chicks this year, started its fall migration that early.  But for a loon with chicks, it was something that I would have never anticipated.  But then it just shows how little we truly know about loons.
And that is one of the great promises of having implanted these loons with satellite transmitters and attached data recorders to others.  Hopefully it will add yet more small pieces of information to our knowledge about loons until one day all the pieces add up to give us a more complete picture of these magnificent birds.  We all owe a great deal to Kevin Kenow and the US Geological Service and Carroll Henderson and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for all that they have done to make this happen.
I look forward to their fall migration with great hope and some trepidation.
A part of me wants to hope that they all go to the Atlantic coast this year to avoid the Gulf oil spill.  But even though that is what my heart tells me, my head tells me that they should do exactly what they would normally do so that we can learn from it.
I continue to be very encouraged by the news coming out of the Gulf....even though much of it is conflicting.
When the government told us a few weeks ago that 75% of the oil was gone and that it had just "vanished", I said that it had NOT 'vanished'.  Something happened to it.  If it indeed was gone, we needed to understand exactly what happened to it.  If indeed it was still there but just hidden in some way, we needed to understand that as well.
Then the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute said that they had found huge plumes of oil and that there was no way that 75% had just disappeared.  But it turns out the plumes that they had found were way back in June, not current plumes.
Today the latest encouraging news is "New microbe discovered eating Gulf oil spill...'Great potential' for dispersing oil in deep sea, researchers report".
I am one who believes that the earth and the environment are amazingly capable of dealing with so much more than we give them credit for.  And that in the whole scheme of things, man in pretty insignificant.  We have known for decades that there are microbes and bacteria that eat oil.  But now they seem to have discovered a new microbe that is even more efficient at eating oil.  This should not surprise us since oil leaks out of cracks in the bottom of the ocean all the time.  And that there is 'something' that takes care of it.  Otherwise we would be awash in oil.
The only thing that is amazing is that man thinks he know everything.
I have little time for the alarmists on either side of the spectrum.  Unfortunately, many of them use a disaster like this to raise money or to make political points.  Neither of those is helpful. 
What is needed is a calm, measured response to determine what the truth and what the facts are. Then we can learn.  And then we can better understand what is actually happening.  We tend to want to step in and think we are in control.  And by doing so, only make matters worse.
In fact, let me say something here that might be controversial.
Over the last few months, I have had several conversations with different organizations that move in to help 'clean up' and wash birds and other animals caught in oils spills.  The "dirty little secret" is that the washing does very little good.  I had heard that before but with the current oil spill it took on new meaning. 
It has been know for some time that most of the birds that are washed end up dying down the beach anyway.  I read one statistic that said on average it cost $50-60,000 per bird that was 'rescued'.  (I have trouble believing that figure, too.)
I asked why they did it when they knew that it probably was not going to help and that the bird would die anyway.  They said, "Because people expect us to do something."
It might be time for a dose of reality for all of us and to realize that that money would be better spent elsewhere.  But even when I say that, I know that if I was standing there and watching something covered in oil struggling to survive, every fiber of my being would scream to do something.  To do ANYTHING!
As a side issue, let me mention something else.
I noticed that someone mentioned something about the wonder of monarch butterflies and their migration.
But I think that they left out the most amazing part of all!
As most of you know, there is an area in central Mexico that monarchs migrate to and spend the winter.  Monarch butterflies by the millions hanging in the trees.
But you may not know that there is another area like that here in the United States!
Most of the monarch butterflies from east of the Rockies go to this area in Mexico.  But most of the monarchs from west of the Rockies go to a small grove of eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove, California.  The area in Pacific Grove is much smaller than the one in Mexico.  It is not much more than a square block in size.  But during the winter months, monarchs hang by the millions in the eucalyptus trees of this grove.
At first glance, they just look like dead leaves in the trees.  But then as the sun begins to warm them, they spread their wings and become a storm of bright orange fluttering wings.
It was in this grove that I first learned some years ago of the great miracle of the monarchs.
Let me try to summarize it from memory (so excuse me if I do not get every fact exactly right).
Monarchs go through 5 or 6 generations during the course of the year.
Each generation lives only about one month during their migration and during the summer.  But then as they approach the fall migration, THAT particular generation lives for 6 to 8 months!  Yes, you read that right!  Each generation lives for only a month.  UNTIL the generation that is to migrate south and overwinter.  That generation lives for many, many times as long as any of the other generations!!
The same species.  The same butterfly.  The same everything!  Except the length of life.
It is as if you lived to be 80 years old.  As did your grandparents and your parents.  And your children.  And your grandchildren.  But then all of a sudden, your great-grandchild lived to be 400, 500 or even 600 years old!!  And then their children once again lived to be only 80 years old.
So that one generation lives to migrate south to Mexico, survive the winter and start the migration north the next spring!
Call it whatever you want.  Call it nature.  Call it ________.  I choose to call it a miracle.  And one that we do not understand at all.
Most of the material about monarchs alludes to this and the information is there if you dig deep enough.  But very few resources lay out in plain English this phenomenon of the generations of the monarchs.
We think we know so much and that we are so smart.   And yet anyone who is honest, would say that the more he knows the more he realizes how LITTLE he knows.
Just like our loons.  We know so very little about them.
So we continue to study.  And to research.  And to learn.
And to stand back in utter amazement of all the miracles that have been put around us.
May you take some time today to stop and look. And think.  And ponder. And understand.  And marvel.  And step back in amazement at the wonderful world around you and all the miracles that we take for granted!