Thursday, May 17, 2012 5:35am CDT

54 degrees F    Cloudy    Calm 
Sunrise  5:40am     Sunset  8:39pm
Today is Syttende Mai, Norwegian Constitution Day.  With Minnesota's large Scandinavian population, there will be some Syttende Mai celebrations today.  Years ago there was a couple of radio people here on one of the largest radio stations in the country that used to call the day "Sit In Da Pie"!
This morning our loon sits faithfully on the nest.
The silhouette of a loon on the nest is always reassuring.
It indicates that the eggs are still there and still ok and that for now everything is calm.
After the incident with the eagle targeting the nest yesterday, calm is very good.
It also seems to have been a very calm night for the loons with no intruders or other problems.  With all the different things that have gone on this year, one sometimes yearns for normality.  But when it comes down to it, anything that happens in nature is 'normal'.  We don't always see things and therefore we think they are abnormal when we see something new.
But I still have the feeling that this year is an 'abnormal' year in so many ways.
From the early spring weather and early arrival of the loons from their wintering grounds.  To the territorial battles.  To visits to the nest by eagles and muskrats and beavers and even raccoon.
I got a note yesterday from Carol Jansky at St John's University, where we implanted satellite transmitters in two loons in 2010.  She reported that there are new chicks there as of yesterday!
"I thought you might be interested in this “birth announcement.”  Big John and his mate hatched two chicks within the last 24  hours.  This morning, Big John, was on daddy-duty (chicks swimming nearby or riding on his back) while his mate went out for some breakfast.  This hatch is about 2 weeks earlier than last year and the year before."
That is very good news.  And the early hatch is what I had really expected for the LoonCam nest.  But we are still aways away from a hatch here.  It was just one week ago today that the second egg was laid - after the first egg had been laid one week ago last Monday night.
So the loons here have a ways to go.
Today promises to be a rainy day for the loons.  Rain and possible thunderstorms are forecast throughout the day today.  Even though the lake is still high from the amount of rain we have had this spring, we could use some rain.  The pansies on the nest could use some rain.  They have been tossed from one place to another as the loons have continued to rearrange everything.
But one of them still has its rootball attached and it will be interesting to see if a little rain and moisture revive it or if it is gone completely.  The iris that was so rudely excavated and then completely torn out by its roots and pulled closer to the nest is hanging on better than I had expected.  A little rain will probably refresh it also.
Today's forecast high temperature is supposed to be in the upper 70s so you may see the loon panting today, even though the rain will keep it cooler than it otherwise would be.  There is also a forecast for quite a bit of wind today.  The next two days are forecast to be very warm.
So many have commented on what an unusual year this has been.
It certainly has been different than most of the other years that I have done this loon nest.  It simply proves once again how little we truly know.  The LoonCam gives us the privilege of observing the loons up close like has never been done before.  So we are allowed a very intimate look into loon behavior that people have never been able to see in this much detail.
Yesterday something happened that raised questions in my mind that I have never thought about.
And I find I have very few answers.
Yesterday forenoon one of the loons got up on the nest and sat beak to beak with its mate.  Then the loon that had just gotten on the nest seemed to give the loon on the nest a couple nips.  I and a number of others had seen this a few times before and they had commented on it.
I had tended to minimize any significance to it.
The loon on the nest left and the other one followed.
A short time later I heard a couple tremolo calls and looked down to the lake to see what what going on.  A loon was calling as it rapidly 'rowed' with its wings to get away from the nest.  There must have been another intruder loon near that I had not seen and our loons were chasing it off.
The loon called and rowed.  After it had gone some distance it stopped and looked around.  It peered below the surface of the water.  Neither of our loons were in sight.  Obviously he was watching for  a loon coming at him from below.  He was on high alert.
Suddenly he jumped and quickly started rowing as fast as he could and calling as he went.
Another loon, obviously one of 'our' loons, surfaced right near where the loon who was now making a hasty exit had been sitting.  Had I seen an attempted 'stab' when I saw the loon jump?  I have to think so.  It was so sudden and such a surprise to the loon that it must have been something like that.
I watched and watched with the binoculars.  Only one loon surfaced other than the 'intruder' loon.  Where was our other loon?  The 'intruder' swam further out into the lake while our loon quickly returned to the nest and settled down on the eggs.  Still no sign of 'our' mate.
Slowly and reluctantly it began to dawn on me that there was actually the possibility that what I had witnessed was a fight between the male and female of our pair.
I didn't want to believe it.  But there was no other explanation.  I know loons can remain underwater for a long time.  And they can swim a long distance underwater.  But this time there was no sign of another loon in the water.  Could it be that I had actually witnessed a fight between a nesting pair.  I was having trouble getting my mind around that concept.
It certainly could not be that an 'intruder' had actually gotten up on the nest.  It had to be 'our' loons.
I had never seen anything nor heard of anything like that.  I have never read about it in any of the scientific literature or studies.  It was hard to believe.  But there seemed to be no other explanation
There have been some very different behaviors exhibited by this particular pair of loons but this was the most extreme if it was true.  I will stop short of definitively saying that it was a fight between the male and female of our nesting pair.  But I have to put the odds at least at 90% that it was since there seemed to be no other loon anywhere around and there seemed to be no other explanation.
It also called into question one or two other times when I thought there had been an intruder.  I know there has been an intruder loon in the area because I have seen all three loons on several occasions when there has been a confrontation and/or a chase.  But once or twice I did not actually see all three loons and assumed that it was an intruder.
But now this incident raised all kinds of new questions in my mind.  Questions I did not want to entertain.
If this was a confrontation between the PAIR, that did not seem to be good.  And I still do not want to admit that is what it was.  But right now I have no other explanation for what I saw.
Does it explain some of the other behaviors we have witnessed?  Does it explain why one of the loons seems to be doing most of the time incubating the eggs, maybe the male?  
Loons normally share nesting duties almost equally.  Research has shown that normally the female spends a little more time on the nest.  Maybe 60% to 40%.
Everything I have seen in all these years of doing this and observing loons has showed that the loons tend to have a nest exchange every two to three hours.  With this pair, the time between nest exchanges has been much longer.
If there is conflict between the pair, it raises all kinds of questions as well of what happens after the chicks are hatched.  Will they put differences aside and protect and feed the chicks as is needed?  Will there be other impacts?  If it is true, it does not bode well for this 'marriage'.
There definitely seem to be differences in behavior that force me to believe that this is a different pair than the one that used the nest last year.  Or used the nest in previous years.
For the first number of years that I did this nest, the pair seemed to be the same from year to year.  But the last couple years seems to indicate that different loons have used the nest.  Without bands on them, we can never be sure.  But the behaviors this year have definitely been different.  From the "sitting on the head" to the nips, to the long times on the nest by one loon.  All different behaviors.
All we can do is watch carefully and learn.  It is possible, maybe even probable, that all of our questions will never be answered.
So today we can only hope that the loons remain faithful to the eggs that they have on the nest.  And that they have a calm day ahead of them.
And we can only sit back and be amazed at what we are able to watch and be a part of.
And be amazed once again at the wonder of nature around us and all the miracles that happen around us every day.  If only we take time to stop long enough to see them.
Comments or Questions?   LoonCam(at)yahoo(dot)com
Copyright  2012     Larry Backlund