Tuesday, May 1, 2012 5:34am CDT

52 degrees F    Cloudy     Wind Calm
Sunrise  6:00am      Sunset  8:20pm
The lake is still.
A slight haze hangs in the air.  Not really fog.  Just a haze.  A haze that softens the outline of the trees across the lake in the early pre-dawn light.
Our two loons float not far from the nest.
And just now they are headed toward the nest, apparently to give it their early morning inspection.
I have mentioned a number of times how I have trouble distinguishing one loon from another.  And there was no more perfect example of that than last night.
Loons in general are almost identical in their markings.  Unlike many birds there is not a distinction in the look or coloring of the male vs the female. With many birds the male is very brightly colored and the female is more subdued or even drab.
With loons the male is slightly larger than the female but even that is not a great or obvious difference.  Sometimes if the loons are swimming right next to each other, I can notice the difference.  If they are apart from each other, it is very difficult to tell the difference.
Add to that the fact that there can be a difference in the size of different males  and you have real trouble distinguishing between the male and female loon.
About 8 pm last night, the female got up on the nest while the male swam nearby.
She went about settling into the nest bowl, digging it deeper with her feet and making it feel just right.  She reached out and drew in different pieces of nesting material.  The nest building became more and more intense.  The male got up on the nest with her and sat and watched as she became more and more intent on building the nest.
As I watched, I wondered if this meant that she could feel the egg moving in her body and that it was urgent that she have the nest ready for the egg.  This went on for over 10 minutes.  Intense nest building while the male just sat next to her and watched.
She would drag material into the nest.  Then turn and get more.  Then settle in to make sure it felt right.  Then turn once again and bring in more material from as far as she could reach.  She even grabbed part of one of the pansies and dragged it into the nest.
I really was beginning to wonder if this might be the time and that we would  see her lay an egg.
It reminded me of a couple years ago when one of the loons went into frantic nest building mode.  It was as if the loon was suddenly possessed by an urge to build and build and build.
She was so intent on getting more material dragged into the nest that she actually had material stuck to her beak and to her face.
But then just like that she left the nest!
What happened to the urgency?  What happened to the egg?  What happened to the apparent need for her to quickly build the nest? 
The male just stayed on the nest as she swam.
Then she suddenly came back up on the nest from the 'back side' and the male immediately moved into the bowl of the nest.  She came and mounted the ..... wait a minute!  Who is who?  WHAT?!?!
It was the MALE who had been in such a frantic nest building mode.  It was the female who came up and sat and quietly watched.  It was the male who had nesting material stuck all over his face.  It was the male that had gotten back in the water!
And now as he got back on the nest, it was the female, who had been sitting quietly to the side of the nest bowl, that quickly moved to the nest bowl.
And one more time they mated.
I had to laugh as I realized that I had totally misunderstood which loon was the female and which was the male.  The one who exhibited the intense nest building behaviour was not the female but it was the male.  It was the female who sat right next to him and calmly watched his behaviour.
But it confirmed in the most definite terms that the male also takes part in building the nest.
It also confirmed how hard it is to distinguish a male loon from a female loon.
Today there are scattered showers forecast for the state.
A few of the storms could get severe but we can only hope that there will not be anything severe here for our loons.  Rain is fine.  But wind and high waves can destroy loon nests.  Especially natural nests that can be inundated or even washed away.
The advantage of a floating nest like this one is that it can rise and fall with the water and the waves.
But it still is vulnerable to large waves just washing all of the nest and the nesting material right off the platform.  I have learned much through the years in how I build the nest and many little tricks to help keep all the material on the floating platform.  But even that is no guarantee that high wind and waves will not damage it.
So we come back to the basic question.
Is today the day for eggs?  I don't know.
Hopefull so.  But only the loons know for sure.
All we can do is watch and wait.  And hope!
Comments or Questions?    LoonCam(at)yahoo(dot)com
Copyright 2012     Larry Backlund