Thursday, May 26, 2011 8:54pm CDT


52 degrees    Partly Cloudy   Wind  Calm


It is sunset.

The northwestern sky is painted with muted pinks and oranges.

The high scattered clouds are a deep purple.

The night hawks are just coming out and flying over with their distinctive 'peeeeekk'.

The loon left the nest a few minutes ago.  There were a couple wails and a couple tremolos.  Then more.

There is no obvious cause for any alarm.  No fishermen.  No canoists.  No pontoons.  No people or dogs down by the shore that I see.

The mate comes swimming in from somewhere out in the lake.

More wails.  More tremolos.  Then a number of yodels.

Still no obvious reason.  Other than maybe just wanting to make know to everyone that they are here.

They swim together for a while.  Then one of them starts his take off flight.  And the other one follows.

As they swim over the lake, they are both doing flying tremolo calls.  It is basically a tremolo but a little different.  I have come to call it a "flying tremolo".  I realize I did not mention it when I listed the basic calls.  I will have to go back and add it.  I don't know how to describe it.  It is a tremolo.  Very similar to the tremolos that you are familiar with.  But there are subtle differences.

When you have listened to so many calls, you know it immediately.  You know to look in the air to see the loon rather than loon on the lake.

They made several laps around the lake all the time doing their flying tremolo.

I am not sure what the reason was.  Maybe they just needed to go to the gym after sitting on the nest for so many hours.  They needed to take a couple laps around the lake to exercise their wings.

It seemed like it was just a flight of joy.

Whatever the reason, after a few laps around the lake they both landed near the their characteristic "skid landing" or "controlled crash"!

There still was no hurry to get back on the nest even with the chilly night air settling in.

After 13 minutes off the nest as I write this, one of the loons climbs back on the nest and goes through the ritual of rolling and adjusting the eggs, and then the characteristic wiggle as the loon settles on the nest just perfectly.

Once again, the eggs are warm and safe.

And the loon is settled in for darkness to come.

We now count in days and hours for the arrival of the chicks....not the weeks that we have been counting before.  The suspense builds.

All the questions about the eggs flood in.  Are they fertile?  Are they developing?  What does the chick look like now?  Obviously the heart is beating.  The nerves are in place.  The big feet are already big.  Is the black down already there in some form?  How about the eyes?  The beak?  So many questions.  So few definitive answers.

But the whole process is almost overwhelming.

Creation of a little chick.  Creation of life where there was none just a few weeks ago.  LIFE!  The miracle of life itself!  I want to see the world's smartest scientist create a little loon chick on his own!  My background and training is as a scientist and engineer.  I wouldn't know where to begin to engineer and create a little loon.  Let alone one that could live and grow on its own.

Things too wonderful to behold or especially to understand.  So we just stand back in awe of this creation.

This weekend when our little loons may very well hatch is Memorial Day weekend.

The start of the summer season.  The time when Minnesotans 'head up to the lake' en masse.

The first really big weekend of boating and fishing and recreation on our beloved 10,000 lakes.

The first big challenge for the loons.

This is a good time to remind ourselves and to remind our friends and family about "loon etiquiette".  Be aware of and on the lookout for loons.

If you see a loon on a nest, we all want to get close and look.  Get 'close' with binoculars.  Usually if you stay at least 300 feet away from them, there will be very little stress or impact.  If you see the loon go into 'hangover position' on the nest, just slowly and quietly back away and the loon will soon return to normal.

If you are in a speedboat, be aware of loons swimming, especially if they have chicks.  The adult will usually be able to dive out of danger but the chick will not.  Many chicks are killed this way and even some adult loons are killed by boats.

By following these simple rules of 'loon etiquette', we will be able to enjoy loons for many years to come and pass them safely down to the next generations.

This may also be a good time to talk about some basic things to look for that will signal hatching.  I will try to go into more detail in the next couple days.

The first clue to look for is that the loon is 'sitting lighter' or 'sitting higher' on the nest.  Not snuggled down into the nest bowl like they usually are.

The next thing to watch for is for "flinches".  A wing may flinch or jerk.  The whole body may flinch.  They are reacting to the movement of the egg and the chick under them.

So watch for some of those signs a few days from now.

It gets closer.  It moves faster.  

It gets more exciting!


Questions or Comments?