Wednesday, May 30, 2012 5:41am CDT

46 degrees F     Clear    Wind 6mph N
Sunrise  5:29am     Sunset   8:52pm
On a chilly Minnesota morning, sunlight paints the nest with its first morning beams of gold.
And the loon sits patiently on its eggs.  Ever faithful.  Ever vigilant.
We - and they - are now down to the last few days before an expected hatch.  Anticipation builds with each passing day.
Unlike many birds whose chicks spend extended amounts of times in the nest before they are able to leave the nest and fly away on their own, our time with the loon chicks is almost ephemeral.  Loon chicks are what are known as 'precocious'.  They are able to swim on their own within hours of being born.  And they usually leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching.
So if your friends and family have not been watching so far, now is the time to encourage them to watch before the chicks hatch and are gone forever.
Many of you have been keeping careful track and trying to understand which of the loons is on the nest - the male or the female.
This year has been unusual in that department as well with the male spending long hours of time on the nest.
Normally the male and female share the nesting duties almost equally.  But this year they are proving that we don't always know what they are going to do or why they are doing what they do.  There is always more to learn.
It is also so good this morning to wake up to the camera being live again.  We don't realize how quickly we become dependent on having this close-up view of the life of a loon on its nest.  And the ability to observe every small detail.
In all the years that I have had of observing them, I have taken this view for granted too many times.  And when the LoonCam went down for a couple days because of equipment problems, I was back many years to having to watch them through binoculars.  I was reminded of how little I could see for many years through those binoculars.  And many of you were reminded how you would never have a chance to see anything of a loon on a nest without the LoonCam.
It has become a part of our lives.
It is something that researchers of years past would have given anything to have this kind of a view.
And many of you have become researchers of your own as you have so carefully kept track and documented every move of the loons on the nest for multitudes of other people who have not been able to watch all the time.  Once again, I thank all of you for the service that you do for everyone!
The last couple days have given the loons a little bit of relief from a special black fly that is attracted only to common loons.
We have all been tormented by black flies that bite.  Black flies that are half the size of a common house fly or less.  And they are fast.  They can bite and take a chunk out of you before you can swat them.  They are unlike a horsefly or deerfly that are large and can be fairly easily slapped.  But black flies can bite and get away before you can kill them.  And they hurt.
But the black flies that are specific to loons (simulium euryadminiculum) are much smaller than the black flies that bite humans.  Smaller by many orders of magnitude.  They are more the size of gnats but they are care a completely different species.
On a calm and warm day, they can torment the loons something fierce.  There have been cases documented where they have become so bad that they have forced loons to abandon their nests.
In an amazing case of specialization in the natural world, these black flies feed ONLY on loon blood!
Much research has been done on them through the years and their are still a lot of questions of what specifically attracts them only to loons.  So far it seems to be a combination of odor, color and maybe shape.  But mainly odor.
Tests have been done even with museum specimens of loon skins that have laid in drawers of museums for years.  When the loon skins were laid on a beach along with the skins of mergansers and grebes and other waterfowl, these specialized black flies were drawn only to the loon skins.
It is an absolutely amazing case of specialization in the animal world.
A few days ago you were able to see them as they swarmed around the loon's head.  The loon shook its head and wiped its head along its back over and over to get rid of the flies.
Watch and see if you can see this little fly when it lives on the loon.
But hopefully today with the cooler temperatures and a little bit of wind these black flies will not bother our loons too much.
We only have a few days left where the loon is "trapped" sitting on the nest.  Once it is back in the water it can dive to help get rid of the  black flies.
Hopefully they will be able to be back in the water with two new little loon chicks very soon!
Comments or Questions?   LoonCam(at)yahoo(dot)com
Copyright  2012     Larry Backlund