Tuesday, May 15, 2012 5:20am CDT


59 degrees F     Partly Cloudy     Wind  3mph  NW

Sunrise  5:42am     Sunset  8:37pm


It is a reassuring sight to see the silhouette of the loon sitting on the nest.

The mate floats peacefully nearby.

Or is it the mate?

The last couple mornings I saw a loon nearby and thought it was the mate, only to have the loon on the nest leave and engage in excited diving with the other loon.  And eventually the other loon left in a frantic flying/rowing motion as it tried to get away quickly from "our" loon.

Obviously it had been an intruder.

Two mornings ago the intruder loon had been sitting out beyond the buoys which mark off the area of the nest.  All of a sudden he jumped straight up, very surprised.  Immediately he began 'rowing' away as fast as he could sounding tremolo calls as he went.

Then another loon, 'our' loon, surfaced right where the other loon had been.

With the jump from the loon and his quick and excited exit from the area and our loon surfacing right at that spot, I think I had actually witnessed an attempted stabbing from below the water.  There is no other explanation of why the loon jumped so much and then hurriedly and noisily left the area.

Loons will stab with their long and sharp beak.  It is one of the few offensive weapons they have.  And they can do serious damage with that beak.

One can only hope that if the raccoon from night before last returns, he will experience first-hand the tip of that beak and will decide that it is not worth his time or effort to swim all the way out to the nesting platform in the search of eggs.  There were no reports last night from observers about a repeat visit by the raccoon.

The appearance of the raccoon on the nest is one of the more serious threats that I have seen.  On land-based nests, raccoons are one of the largest dangers to loons and one of the greatest predators of loon eggs.  If they are able to scare the loon off the nest, they will probably have an early morning breakfast of eggs.

Raccoons be vicious fighters.

For all their cuteness with that 'bandit mask' on their face, if they are cornered or threatened they can become very vicious.  There are reports that a raccoon cornered by a dog is more than an even match for the dog.

Now that the raccoon has found the nesting platform, let us just hope that the loon does not spook and leave the nest and that if the raccoon returns, the loon is able to convince him to quickly leave with a little touch of that sharp beak applied to sensitive parts of the raccoons anatomy.

Today promises to be another "Minnesota Day".  Partly cloudy blue skies, low humidity and temperatures in the mid 70s with gentle breezes.

Yesterday you may have seen the loon panting a lot on the nest.

This is very normal.  The temperature here got up to 90 degrees yesterday!  Panting for a loon is a way to control body temperature, just like a dog pants for the very same reason.

Loons are used to swimming in cool water.  On a day when the sun beats down on them as they sit on the nest, they will pant to lower their body temperature.  Having black plumage does not help in the hot sun.  They will often leave the nest for a few minutes at a time to get in the water and cool off.

But today should not be quit as warm as it was yesterday so that should give the loons some relief as they sit on the nest.  But even in relatively cool temperatures a loon will pant.  It is very normal behavior.

Some people have been wondering about a 'tuft of feathers' on the loon that shows up on its side.  They have wondered if it because of being in a fight with another loon or something else.

I do not think there is any cause for concern.

I remember seeing the same thing several years ago and being very concerned about it.

I had watched an eagle dive bomb one of our loons as if it was trying to take it.

In the next few days I became aware of a tuft of feathers just like this.  For the longest time I was convinced that it was due to the close call with the eagle.

However, I have seen the very same thing many times since.  It seems to be a normal part of loons.  Without being able to closely examine a live loon, I cannot say for certain exactly what it is.  But it does seem to be a normal tuft of feathers that are usually covered by the wing.  But when the loon sits on the nest with its wings lowered around its body to protect the eggs, this tuft of feathers is exposed and blows around in the breeze.

So I do not think it is any cause for concern.

But someday, somehow, I would like to be able to examine a live loon to see exactly what that tuft of feathers is.  And is it there all the time or just during certain times.

Once again, way more questions than there are answers.

Encourage your friends and family to join you in watching.  The few days that we have this privilege every year are ever so fleeting.  We have already passed the one week mark since the first egg was laid.

But just by being able to observe close up like we can on the LoonCam, we learn more and more every day about these beautiful birds.

These symbols of the great wilds of the north.


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

Copyright 2012    Larry Backlund