Sunday, May 13, 2012 6:10 am CDT


42 degrees F    Clear    Calm

Sunrise  5:44am     Sunset  8:34pm


It is a "Minnesota morning".

Cool.  Clear.  Crisp.

The first rays of the rising sun paint the shoreline of a northern lake.

Small wisps of steam rise off the water and drift across the surface in the early morning sun.

A loon sits on its nest.

Do things get much better than this?

These are the scenes that refresh the soul and restore one's faith in all that is good.  These are the scenes that enfold and enrapture us and draw us in and hold us.  These are the scenes that convince us to forget that there is an 'outside world' with problems.  That draw us in hold us spellbound.

This is truly a "Minnesota morning".

The loons survived their first day of increased boat traffic on the lake due to the Minnesota "Fishing Opener".

Fortunately for them, on the first day of the fishing season, many people head even further north to lakes scattered across the state.  But on a beautiful day, there was an increase in boat traffic.  

I would expect the same today.  The forecast is for temperatures in the mid-70s, blue sky, no chance of rain and mild breezes.  Minnesotans tired of being winter bound are anxious to get out on their lakes.  And no doubt they will do just that today.

There is an old saying among Minnesotans that "You can't really appreciate spring until you have endured a Minnesota winter."  And on a day like this, that is especially true.  We love all our seasons here in the "Theater of Seasons" but spring is such a special time of year as the frozen 'tundra' gives way to flowers and green and growth and new life.  And LOONS!

Yesterday was a perfect illustration of how good and considerate most people really are.

Two young men in inflatable Sevylor kayaks came paddling by.  They looked like they were identical twins.  Tousled hair and slight beards.  Maybe in their late teens or early twenties.  They almost looked like a reflection of each other.  

Fishing rods stuck up out of their kayaks.  They obviously had been fishing the shoreline.

But as they came to the first buoys outlining the area around the loon nest (there are 11 buoys plus a swimming raft), they steered out around them.

You could tell they were fascinated by the nest and the loon on it.  A loon now in severe 'hangover' at their presence.  But they did not approach the nest but stayed outside the buoys and simply looked.  And then they continued there paddling and went further down the shore.

Shortly after they had paddled by, I went down to finish mowing the front yard along the lake.  Grass that was getting long enough to need a baler rather than a lawnmower.

Having watched the hangover of the loon in response to the kayakers, I watched carefully as I started mowing.  The loon did not even flinch nor did he lower his head at all.  It is amazing how accepting they can be of human activity around them.

For many years I had wondered if they can really recognize people because I see a difference if I go down by the lake versus if I have someone with me that the loons do not know.  I was really thinking that I had let my imagination run too far.  But then one year the neighbor said 'I am sure they know us.'  I said thank you for saying that.  I thought I was losing my mind.

I checked with a biologist at the University who specializes in waterfowl and he said he believed that they can recognize people.  He said he sees the same thing with some of his research subjects.

So I felt better that I was not just making this stuff up in my own mind because I wanted it to be true.

But when I stop to think about it, if a loon can recognize and distinguish one loon from another, why could they not recognize certain people who they see often.  I cannot tell the difference between two loons most of the time.  But a loon sure can.  It can tell its mate from a distance and never reacts when the mate comes swimming toward the nest.  But let an 'intruder' come into the area and there is no doubt that the loon immediately recognizes that this is a different loon.

Also yesterday afternoon two men came by slowly in a very large power boat, driven by a small electric motor rather than the big engine, as they fished the shoreline and docks.  Once again, when they saw the buoys around the nest, they respectfully steered well outside them.  They even made several casts toward the swimming raft that marks part of the boundary around the nest.   But they never approached the nest.

They too also obviously knew what it was as they pointed at it and talked among themselves.

But the loon never even lowered its head in response to them.

It is an illustration once again of something that I at times hate to admit.

I am an avid canoeist.  I love canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Those of us who are canoers and kayakers are sometimes self-righteously smug.

We would never say it out loud but deep down we think we are so much better than people who use big boats and big motors (which I also like by the way).  We think we are so much more 'nature friendly' than those 'other people'.

But then watching the loons tells me something different.

The loons will react to a canoe or kayak much quicker usually than they will to a power boat.

I think it is partly because a canoe or kayak is slower and spends more time in the area.  But with a canoe, we also can get into areas that a power boat would not go.  And we tend to be more inquisitive when we see something that catches our attention.  We tend to paddle right up to it.

So when I see the reaction of the loons, it is always a reminder not to be too quick to judge others.

One of the beauty of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes is that they are open to everyone.  And they get used heavily.

But that always creates tensions.

In some ways, we would love to prohibit anyone from using a lake and leave them to the loons.

But that is not practical and it is not reality.

I can put the buoys around the nest to try to remind people to keep a respectable distance.  But people have the right to use the lake as well.  You cannot cordon off the whole lake.  You cannot prevent people from making use of it.

So it becomes a matter of education more than anything else.  Of teaching people to simply be aware of what is around them and then to watch the wildlife but watch from a distance.

I am so grateful to the wonderful neighbors who consent to having the loon nest here.  And they purposely limit how much they do on the lake while the loons are on the nest.  If that ever changes, that would necessarily be the end of the LoonCam.  So I am eternally grateful to them.

Someone asked if I got out fishing yesterday.  The short answer is no.  While the loons are on the nest, I cannot take the canoe or boat out nor can we go swimming (although it is still a little too early for comfortable swimming).  But it is a small price to pay for a couple months to see and help these spectacular birds.  The Minnesota State Bird.

And to give you a chance to see them "up close and personal" through the LoonCam.  Something none of us could do in any other way.


And we hope that in a few weeks our loon will be celebrating her own "mother's day" with two new baby loons.


Comments or Questions?  LoonCam(at)yahoo(dot)com

Copyright 2012  Larry Backlund