Tuesday, May 3, 2011 8:40am CDT

[For some reason this mornings blog entry did not post correctly...so here it is again.]


36 degrees   Sunny    Wind NW 7mph
The clouds and rain have left.
The sky is  stunning blue and the sun shines brightly.
Today promises more seasonal temperatures.  We might even get back to average, which at this time of year is 65 degrees F.
While we wait for our loons to decide if it is time to lay an egg or not, I thought this might be a good time to review the different calls of the Common Loon.  Calls which you will hear from time to time on the LoonCam, especially late at night. 
There are 4 main calls that a Common Loon (Gavia immer) makes:
1.  The wail.
2.  The tremolo.
3.  The yodel
4.  The hoot
When you know and understand these 4 calls, you have a great insight into what is going on at any moment simply by hearing the loon calls.
When you can 'speak loon', it adds so much to your appreciation of them when you hear them calling in the wild.  As you sit at a cabin or a wilderness campsite on vacation and hear that haunting cry echo across a northern lake on a still wilderness evening, you will know what the loons are talking about. 
I tend to divide the 4 calls into 2 'good' calls and 2 'bad' calls.  Let me explain.
First of all, there are really no 'good' or 'bad' calls.  There are simply calls that loons use to communicate with each other.
But I call them good and bad based on the message they convey.  The 'good calls' are calls that are simply communication.  The 'bad calls' are calls that a loon uses to express alarm or concern.
The wail is a 'good call' that a loon simply uses to communicate with another loon to tell them where they are and to ask where the other loon is.  'I am here, where are you'.  It is the long haunting call that evokes such emotions and memories as it echoes across a quiet lake at sunset.
The wail is made by both the male and female loon.
The tremolo is a 'bad call' only because it expresses alarm from a loon.  The loon is concerned about something.  It is upset.  It senses danger.  That danger can come from another loon, from an eagle, from a human, from any number of sources.  It is the loon saying, "I am scared.  I am upset.  I am concerned.  I don't know what is going on but I don't like it."
The tremolo is made by both the male and female.
The yodel is a 'bad call' that is a territorial call made only by the male.
This is probably the most extreme of all the calls of the loon.  It is a male saying to all other male loons within hearing range "This is MY territory!  Stay out!  I will defend this territory.  And you enter my territory at your own risk.  Now LEAVE!"
The hoot is a 'good call'.  It is the quietest and most intimate the 4 calls.  Very few people ever get close enough to a loon to even hear the hoot.
The hoot is used to communicate when two loons are close to each other.  Or especially for an adult loon to communicate to a chick as they swim together.  It is a very quiet call and so most people never get a chance to be close enough to a loon to hear it.
So now you know the four basic calls of a loon and know what they are saying when you hear them.
I have to admit that I enjoyed the tremolo and yodel much more before I knew that they were alarm calls and that it was a loon telling me that it was very concerned.  But knowing the call has added so much to my understanding of what is going on when I hear the tremolo or especially the yodel.
There are a couple other loon calls that have not been well documented or not documented at all.
There is a "mewing" call.  It is not well documented at all.In fact, if you have been watching the LoonCam just this year, you have heard more of this call than have any researchers!
The 'mewing' call is a very quiet call that has been referenced a few times in the old literature.  But it has never been added to the list of the 4 calls of the loon.  I would submit that it is a separate call and deserves its own category.
The mewing call is made by apparently both loons, but for especially the female, while they are near or on the nest.  It sounds somewhat like a cat mewing.  I do not have a good recording of it to give you but maybe one of our wonderful viewers who are so good at capturing videos and sounds may be able to capture it for me.
The full meaning of the mewing call is yet to be understood.  But it does seem to be related to nesting activity, although one cannot be sure that it is not used when the loons are away from the nest.  But it is a very quiet and intimate call...even moreso than the hoot.
There is yet one more call that I have not heard described in any any scholarly literature...or any literature anywhere.  I have never even heard anyone talk about it.  But once again, if you have watched the LoonCam, you have heard what no researcher has ever heard or studied.  I believe that it is new and unique to the LoonCam and has never been documented before.
It is a call somewhat related to the mewing call but yet is different.  For lack of any other description, I would refer to  it as the 'invitation to mate' call.  It is given by the female but I cannot say it is exclusive to the female although I believe it is.
The 'invitation to mate' call is a rapid staccato call that is similar to the tone of the mewing.  But it is staccato and not drawn out like the mewing call.
In numerous times that I have heard it, seen the reaction and documented it, almost immediately after the female gives the 'invitation to mating' call, the male comes up on the nest and mating activity ensues.
Both the 'mewing call' and the 'invitation to mating call' need much more study and research.  But they seem to be 'new' calls that have never been fully documented or studied before.  
And you are a first hand observer of some of the new information about loons that is coming from the LoonCam!
If you have any questions or comments, send them to LoonCam@yahoo.com.  Because of the volume of emails, I probably will not be able to personally but I will try to answer questions in the blog.