Tuesday, April 24, 2012 7:14am CDT


44 degrees F   Clear   Calm


Yesterday was a day that was a little quieter in the "War of the Pansies".

While there were times of yodels and tremolos between competing loons, I did not see any chases take place, although they may have and I just wasn't watching at the time.

There is at least one other pair of loons on the lake that I have seen.

On this cool calm Minnesota morning, two loons sit in the rising morning sun not too far out from the nest.

They are both half rolled over on their sides, their beautiful white breasts exposed as they preen their all important coat of feathers.  The condition of that coat determines if they have protection from the cold water and cold air.  So they will spend a lot of time each day preening and making sure every feather is just right.  And that every feather is coated with a special oil that they produce with a gland located at the base of their tail.

Each of them is doing the "foot waggle".

The foot waggle is when a loon extends one leg out of the water and waves that impossibly large foot in the air.

Someone has calculated that if we were to measure a loon's foot in terms of human measurements, they would have a 46 Triple R shoe size!  That large foot is one of the things that makes loons such powerful swimmers.  It allows them to chase and catch even the most nimble minnow or small fish under water.

No one knows for sure why loons do the "foot waggle".

I have read some researchers who claimed that they did it as a temperature control mechanism and to cool off.  That is one explanation that I personally don't buy or understand.  If they were trying to cool off, it seems more logical that they would keep their foot in the water which is usually much cooler than waving it around in the warmer air.

To me, the foot waggle is yet one more of the many things about loons that we do not understand.

You can even see the youngest chick only a few days old doing the foot waggle.  It is something so characteristic of loons.  I am not sure if other waterbirds do it or not.  I have not observed them doing it like I have seen loons do over and over.

So on a beautiful spring morning, our loons are relaxing.

They have already been up on the nest this morning and mated as well as a couple times yesterday.

They were even up on the nest late last night in the dark.

It is good to see them back on the nest after the interruptions of the last few days and very little time on or around the nest.  Hopefully things are settling down so that they can get about the business of raising a new generation of loons.

One can only wish they would have brought with them the map from last year that they drew with the locations of the territorial boundaries and that they could skip all this territorial confrontation.  But, alas, they seem to have forgotten the map down south and so they go through the re-establishment of territory.

It is amazing to see how well defined the boundaries become.  You can almost draw a physical line in the water which represents the line across which the loons will not stray once they have established the territory.  How they know, I do not know.  But the important thing is that they know where that line is and whose territory is whose.

Once that line is established, there will be more peace, less fighting and less confrontation.  And the loons can get down to what they need to do at this time of year.  Laying eggs and raising young loons.

I got a note yesterday from Carol Jansky at St John's University.  Carol was involved 2 years ago when we implanted the satellite tranmitters in two loons from the St John's campus.  One of the loons they affectionately named "Big John".  She told me that Big John and his mate have already apparently laid egg(s) over the weekend and are now incubating them.

That is what we are waiting for here.

Then we can all breathe a sigh of relief when the eggs are laid ... that is breathe a sigh of relief until the next event in the drama strikes.

Twitter and tweet and let your facebook friends know that now is the time to start watching now if they are not already doing so.  They will never regret being a part of this beautiful drama.


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Copyright 2012  Larry Backlund