Sunday, June 10, 2012 5:51am CDT


70 degrees     Clear    Calm

Sunrise  5:24am     Sunset  9:00pm


On a warm morning, one of our loons and our healthy little chick sit not too far from the nest.

The chick is sitting on the back of the loon.  Up until a few minutes ago, it was getting a grand slam breakfast of minnow after minnow.

But for now, it seems to have had its fill of food and is content to just ride on mom or dad's back.

Riding on the back is one of the iconic pictures of little loon chicks.

It is something they do often during the first couple weeks of their life.  It serves several purposes.  By riding on the parent's back, it protects the chick from predators above and especially below.  A northern, muskie, bass or snapping turtle cannot easily pluck it from the surface of the lake.  Nor can an eagle easily take it off mom or dad's back.

Plus it allows a chick to stay warm.

So much of the time that a chick is not actively feeding during the first couple weeks of its life, it will be seen riding on the adult loons back.

This morning our little chick is one week old.

Can it really be a week ago already that we first saw this little guy poke his head out from underneath a wing?

In a way it seems like such a short time ago.  But in some other ways it seems like we have known this chick for so long and come to love him.  To love his antics as he time after time has gotten back up on the nest.  Constantly preening.  Always moving.  Moving up, down and over the adult on the nest.

What is unusual is how often it has returned to the nest.

And more often than not, it has been the chick that has taken the lead to return to the nest.  It is the chick that has led the adult back to the nest.  He seems to be very comfortable at spending time on the nest.

What will he do today?

Will he behave more like a loon and be content to stay in the water?  Or will he once again spend more time on the nest?

He was up on the nest for extended periods of time yesterday.  Seemingly happy and content to be there.  He last left the nest at 11pm last night and I assume has not been on the nest all night.

I watched him just as it was getting dark last night.  The chick was on the nest all by himself.  One of the adults sat about 20 feet away from the nest with a minnow in its beak.  It mewed over and over.  Seemingly saying to the chick 'I have a minnow for you.  Come over and get it.'

But the chick stayed on the nest.

Finally the the adult gave up and brought the minnow over to the chick on the nest.

Most of the time that you have seen the chick alone on the nest, one of the loons has been nearby keeping watch over it.

But last night at about 7pm, our family had to confront an 'intruder loon'.  This is the first time in several days that I have seen any territorial struggles with another loon.

Our family had been quietly swimming inside of the buoys when all of a sudden there were yodels.  And tremolos.  Over and over.

Both parents left the chick floating by himself and swam out to meet the intruder.

There was a full-fledged confrontation.

Call after call.  Complete with penguin dances.

Then one of the loons went flapping and rowing rapidly across the surface of the water as it headed toward the middle of the lake.  With two loons in hot pursuit.

And our chick sat bobbing all alone.

Any time I see the chick bobbing around all by itself, my heart skips a beat.  I watch in dread of that swirl of water from below.   Maybe if we had not lost a chick exactly that way a few years ago, I would be less concerned.

But a chick by itself at this age is so defenseless.

Once the parents had driven the intruder well away from the area, they quickly returned to the chick and swam around the nest.  All was well.

We have all smiled and marvelled at the spunk of our little chick as he has returned to the nest.  It has been so much fun to watch him even though we wish that he would not keep coming back to the nest.  But we will take as a gift every view of our chick.  And this year we have had a lot of 'gifts'.

You can see that he already has grown dramatically in the one week since he was born.

Already his black down that we saw when he was first born is turning to more of a brown color.

He will continue to go through that color change over the next couple weeks.  It will be several weeks before he begins to get actual feathers.  Down will be his coat of 'choice' for several weeks yet.  It is normal for the chick to preen almost non-stop.

Even when they are in the water, if they are not feeding there is a good chance that they will be preening.  They will roll over on their side, one huge foot waving in the air as they preen the down on their belly.  With one foot in the air and the other in the water, it tends to spin them around and around.  Like everything else that the chick does, it makes it almost impossible for us to take our eyes off him.

There has been a lot of speculation as to why the chick seems to want to keep returning to the nest.

I will be honest.  I do not have any good or easy answers.

Several years ago, when one egg hatched and the other one did not, the adults came back to the nest to incubate the remaining egg.  And each time they came back, the chick came back with them and spent time on the nest.  We were privileged for 10 days or two weeks to watch the chick grow dramatically.

But in that case, it was the parents that came to the nest and the chick followed.

In this case, it seems to be the chick that wants to return to the nest and he brings the parents along with him.

If you will remember, just a few short days ago we were concerned that they parents had seemingly abandoned the second egg and were off all day long swimming with our little chick.

When the second egg broke on the nest, I really expected that it would break the bond with the nest and that the loons would move on with life.  But that seemed to change the chick's behavior.  He started returning to the nest for extended periods of time and he brought the parents with him.  Rather than the other way around.

So let us see what today brings.

I have been starting to consider what our options are or should be.

Suffice it to say that we will not just turn the LoonCam off 'cold turkey'.  I will try to give you at least a couple days warning before the cam goes dark for another year.  The determining factor will be what the loons do.

Several have also asked what will happen to this blog.

As we go along, my posts will become less and less.  Rather than daily it may be every couple days.  And then once a week or once every couple weeks.  Or once a month.

But I will try to keep you up-to-date on what is happening with our loons and with our little chick who will not be 'little' for very long.

And then this fall the cycle will start all over again or will continue as our loons once again migrate south for the winter.

This is a good time to remind you about the USGS website that tracks loons that have had satellite transmitters implanted in them to track their movements.

The site is no longer being updated with the loons from last year that are now back on their summer breeding lakes.  But the USGS is continuing with its study of the migration patterns of loons.  There is so much that is still unknown about their migration and especially about their wintering habits.  But the work of Kevin Kenow of the USGS has added so much knowledge about this part of a loon's life.

And it continues.

I got an email from Kevin a few days ago.  It is looking promising that this summer, probably in mid-July, we may actually have 'our loons' banded and fitted with data recorders.  Not a surgical implant of a satellite transmitter but of a data recorder fitted to their leg.  This data recorder will document where the loon goes, how deep it dives, how high it flies and other vital information.  Later the data recorder has to be recovered to download the data.

So that is very good news!

It is something we have wanted for sometime.  Very possibly next year we will see loons sporting some new 'bling' on their legs.  And we will be able to tell one loon from another.  And know if it is the same loons from this year that come back next year.

But the first requirement is for our chick to remain healthy and strong and growing.  Without that, nothing else happens.

So this morning I wanted to give you that update and something to look forward to.

But today the important thing is our little chick.

Today promises to be another very hot day with high temperatures in the mid-90s.  A day that our loons are much better to be in the cool water rather than sitting exposed to the hot sun on the nest.

What will our chick decide to do today?

I have given up trying to predict.

Late this afternoon or tonight, there is also a possibility for strong thunderstorms.  The loons are able to contend with thunderstorms much better when they are in the water than when they are on the nest.

So let's see what our chick does today.

Will he be a loon?  Or will he be a 'land loon'?

The saga continues and you don't want to miss a minute of it!


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Copyright  2012     Larry Backlund