Monday, May 30, 2011 6:56pm CDT

87 degrees   Clear  Wind 6mph SW    Dewpoint 71 degrees
Let's talk a little bit more about hatching since we seem to be getting so close.
I certainly am no expert in hatching chickens or anything in incubators although I have done it.  But it has been many years since I last hatched some pheasants in an incubator.
People who hatch eggs refer to a sequence of "pipping, zipping and hatching".
A chick in an egg will struggle mightily to make the first hole in the egg.  This is called pipping.  It gives the chick its first chance to breathe air.
The chick has a little bump on the top of its beak at the tip that is called an "egg tooth".  It is specifically there as a 'tool' for the chick to work its way out of the egg.  Shortly after the chick has hatched, the egg tooth disappears.  Yet one more of the miracles that we are so unaware of as we go about our everyday lives.
That effort to pip the egg may so wear out and tire the chick that it may stop all activity for many hours.  Sometimes up to 24 hours while it rests.
That is for some of the more common eggs like chickens and ducks.  But so very little is known about loons hatching that little can be said with any certainty at all.  But I would guess ...  and I emphasize it is only a guess since so little is known ... that I would expect that loons would be somewhat similar to other birds.
After a chick has 'pipped' and rested, it will start to 'zip'.
It literally starts to cut or 'zip' its way around the egg to allow it to get out.
Once it has 'zipped' its way or part way around the egg,  the egg shell can be forced open and the chick then hatches out of the egg and is free of the shell.
So that is where  the terms "pipping, zipping and hatching" come from.
This whole process from the first pipping until the chick hatches can easily take 24 hours or more.  But let me repeat once again that very little is known with any surety about loon chicks hatching so you may be part of adding to our knowledge by what you observe here on the LoonCam!
So where are we in this process of "pipping, zipping and hatching" with our loons?  That is the big question.
I still do not know enough to say definitively what is happening.  There are a few clues but precious little hard data.  And here I am still struggling with what I WANT to see and what I am actually seeing that can be documented.
What are some of the "few clues" that I mentioned?
The biggest one of course is just the time.  The 'normal' incubation period for loon eggs that has been accepted for many decades is 28 days.  But until the advent of the LoonCam, very few researchers have ever been able to document either egg laying or egg hatching with any certainty whatsoever.  Many observations established the 26-31 days but a lot of it was necessarily based on guess work.
With the advent of the LoonCam we have been able to definitively tell when an egg was laid and also tell when it hatched within a few hours.
Consistently we have seen the hatching tending to be toward the shorter end of the range of 26-31 days reported over the years in research literature.
I have even documented at least 2 cases of chicks hatching at 25.5 days.  
We passed the 25.5 day mark this morning.  So that is the first 'clue' that I referred to.
An even more powerful clue is that in just the last half hour there have been several 'wing twitches' where she has lifted her wing slightly.  That is the one clue that was missing this morning when I wondered if there was a pip in the egg.  The loon sat very still in the heavy rain with no twitching.  But that could have been due to the rain.  Or due to that there was no pipping going on.
So are those wing twitches trying to tell us something.  Maybe.  Maybe not.
The clues start to add together but still do not give us anything definitive.
A third clue was that this morning there was a 'chirping'.  I did not give it a second thought and simply thought it was the birds getting ready for the first light of dawn.  After I saw what I thought was possibly a hole in the egg from a pip, I began to wonder if the 'chirp' was actually something other than the morning birds warming up.
Once again, I have to rein myself in and tell myself not to get in front of the data and actual facts.  But careful observations start to paint a more complete picture even though they lend themselves to the danger of surmising what is not there.  I probably should not even be talking about all these things until we know for sure what is happening.  
But I wanted to give you some insight into what has been going through my mind....and I am sure yours as well.
Let me add one more 'clue' that is even a little more tenuous but it adds to the whole picture.
Shortly after 5pm CDT the loon was off the nest for about 10 minutes.
I convinced my self that there was a pip in each of the eggs!  As I watched very carefully, I convinced myself that I could see movement on the right egg and maybe even a little on the left egg.  The contour of the egg was silhouetted against a cattail reed laying in the nest so there was good contrast between the dark egg and the light cattail reed.  And there appeared to be movement where the 'apparent hole' seemed to be located.  Like a small, and I do mean small, movement of a chick's beak.
I could have just as easily been a mind trick or visual trick or a trick of shadows or just the pixels of the  video
moving without a lot of fine definition.
Like I said, I am going way out on a limb with some of this surmising.  I emphasize at this point it is surmising.
I may turn out to be totally wrong.
Or we may be in the midst of the actual hatch.  Only time will tell.  Time.  Time.  Time.  Frustratingly slow time!
Someone asked me to say a word about the fights between chicks that I have talked about in previous years.
This will be something you can watch for when we actually have a hatch.
The chicks will normally leave the nest within about 24 to 48 hours of hatching.  The second chick usually hatches about a day after the first chick hatches, even though the eggs  may have been laid further apart than that.  It is something called "catch up".
In almost every case, I have observed the two chicks to have a knock down drag out fight with each other.  It is very hard to watch because you are sure you are going to watch one chick kill the other chick.  It seems like it is the first chick to be born that starts the fight.  He is already bigger and stronger than the chick that is born second.
The fight only lasts for maybe 10 minutes but it is the longest hardest 10 minutes that you will ever watch.  I just wanted to give you a heads up so that if and when you see it you will be prepared.  I have watched it happen on the nest.  And I have watched it happen in the water.
It is the proverbial 'pecking order' that we talk about but give hardly a second thought to what it really means.
In all the instances where I have witnessed it, it seems to be a unique and one-time occurrence.  Once it is over, the chicks seem to get along very well with each other.
But watching that fight is not the most pleasant thing to watch.
I don't think I have ever written publicly about this much of my behind the scenes conjecture.  I have usually waited until I had something that was a little more concrete and provable before I talked to you about it.  I am not sure why I am doing this now.  Other than to share with you my inmost thoughts about what is happening and what we are watching together.  
And to encourage you to watch closely and carefully.  And to gather your loved ones around you to share this special moment  and this miracle with them.
I may turn out to be totally wrong in what I think I am seeing and I may be mislead by my own hopes and wants and wishes.
Or we may be on the verge of the actual hatch!
The one sure thing is that if they are going to hatch, it will almost certainly be in the next couple days.
That alone is enough to start your heart racing.
Questions or Comments?