7:56pm Sunday, October 30, 2011

39 degrees  Cloudy  Calm
The loons are on the move.
After a seemingly delayed start to the migration, many of the loons are now starting to move.
"Our loons" that you watched on the webcam this year departed earlier than almost any year I have seen them depart.  They departed sometime back in the latter part of August.  Both adults and chicks.  I expected to see them back on the lake again but I have not seen them here since about the third week in August.
What was especially surprising is that is about the earliest that they chicks could have taken their first flights.
For those of you who have been following the work of Kevin Kenow and his research at the USGS, 7 or 8 of the loons with  newly implanted satellite transmitters have begun their staging on the Great Lakes in preparation for their migration south.
[For those of you who may not be aware of the website, you can find it at http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/terrestrial/migratory_birds/loons/migrations.html .  
You will find it a fascinating resources to check throughout the fall as you watch the loons begin to move and then find their way down to their wintering grounds along the Atlantic Coast or along the GUlf of Mexico.  Next spring you will also be able to follow them as they make their way back north.]
I apologize for taking so long to update this blog but I have been on a number of trips.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to spend part of the day with Kevin Kenow and the great staff at the USGS facility in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  For the first time I met Bob Kratt who is the person who does the hard and tedious work of sifting through satellite data and from that producing the map that shows you exactly where the loons are and also where they have been.  It is a massive undertaking and Bob Kratt deserves a lot of thanks from all of us who are able to vicariously be a part of the loon's migration because of his efforts!
Bob has done something wonderful this year that shows all of the loons and their movements on a single page.  Check it out if you have not done so  already.  Just click the "All Migrations Summary" near the bottom of the page.
Yesterday I got an email from Kevin Kenow with an update on "Big John"!  Yes, the "Big John" (Loon 55480), the loon that we followed last year from St John's University campus after he had a satellite transmitter attached.
Big John is now on his way and currently is on Lake Michigan, just above Racine, Wisconsin.
Here is Kevin's email from yesterday...
"Big John (loon 55480) reported in from Lake Michigan yesterday, just off Wind Point (N of Racine, WI).  This is the same area that he used last fall (18-19 Oct 2010).  Big John was near Forest Lake, MN a few days ago.  As you may recall, he also stopped at Forest Lake during his 2010 migration.  We're getting more time from his transmitter than I expected!"
What is interesting is that he went to exactly the same area of Lake Michigan as he did last year.
What is amazing is that he even stopped at the same lake, Forest Lake, on his way to Lake Michigan!  It raises the question of how 'hard wired' their migration routes are or if this was just a coincidence.
Once again, it only serves to point out how little we truly know about these magical birds.
So enjoy the next few weeks as you watch the loons gather and then eventually head south on their long journeys
This last week I was up at the end of the Gunflint Trail in northeastern Minnesota.  For those of you in other parts of the country or especially in other parts of the world, this is one of the most wild and beautiful areas in the state if not the country.  Much of it is truly wilderness.  It is home to the world famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness where the only means of travel in the interior is by canoe.  We were on a lake called Gunflint Lake which forms part of the border with Canada.  The shore on the other side of the lake only a mile away is Canada.  This lake was part of a super-highway 200 years ago during the days of the voyageurs.  Over this lake  flowed millions of dollars of furs that was headed to the markets of Europe, especially beaver skins to make the tophats which were all the rage in England and Europe at the time.  (I will maybe say more about this trip at sometime and also tell you about jumping in the frigid lake.  Only weeks from ice over.  TWICE!  On purpose!!)
One night while walking along the lake shore, I was surprised to hear a single loon call from the Canadian side of the lake near the narrows into the adjoining lake.  I had especially thought that loons along the Canadian border would have been on their way south.
But what a wonderful, magical moment that was to hear a loon call from the darkness of a far northern lake and to hear that call echo down the lake.  To be on the edge of the wilderness.  And yet with all the comforts of home.
To walk down a small road through the forest and see a Canadian lynx cross only a few feet in front of us.  A VERY rare sighting.  People who have lived there most of their lives were very jealous because they have never seen a lynx in the wild.  To have a spectacular northern lights display (although unfortunately I missed it!).
But all of that can wait for another time.  And another blog entry.
For now we can just be content in the knowledge that, even though we do not see nor hear them right now, loons are out there.  Doing well.  Being loons.  That quintessential, iconic symbol of the great northern wilderness.
And once in a while even calling to us.  As if just to remind us that they are there.