Sunday, July 15, 2012 11:13pm CDT

76 degrees F     Clear     Calm
Sunrise  5:39     Sunset  8:57pm
Today I got a chance to see all 7 of our loons on the lake - and especially our 2 adults and little chick from the LoonCam.
All of them seem to be doing well.
They have to be very alert to stay away from all the boats that speed across the lake.  And with hot weather having returned to Minnesota, there were a lot of boats and jet skis out on the water.
Tomorrow night the dew point is supposed to be 77 degrees!  For those of you Down South, that is sort of normal.  But for us "Nanook of the North" Minnesotans, that is oppressive and almost unbearable.  At least for our loons they can spend their day in the water.
The evening started with the arrival of all of the people who would make up the team for this banding.  Kevin Kenow and Steve and Luke were here from the USGS.  Carrol Henderson, who oversees all the non-game wildlife programs for the state of Minnesota, and Lori were here from the Minnesota DNR.  Travis Frank and Lance were here from Minnesota Bound to film and document the activities of the evening.
We could not go out on the lake until 10:30 or 11:00pm until it was dark enough.  Too much light, even moonlight, makes it difficult to catch the loons if they can even see your silhouette.  Since we are in the last quarter phase of the moon, that helped to keep things dark.
While we waited for it to get dark enough to go looking for loons, Travis and Lance conducted a number of interviews to let people know what was going to happen this night.
I laid out for Kevin and the team where we would most likely be able to find the two families of loons -what their normal range was on the lake.
Shortly before we were ready to head out, 3 fishermen came in off the lake with a VERY nice large mouth bass - 23 inches, probably over 6 pounds.  He was originally from Louisiana so he has caught some very nice southern bass, which are larger than the ones in Minnesota.  But he said this was the largest bass he had ever caught in Minnesota and it was definitely going up above the mantel he said.
I told him some of the top people from the MN DNR and the USGS were here and I asked if he would be willing to show it to them  I said that they would love to see it.
I think at first he was a little hesistant when I told him that some of the top people from the DNR were here!  But he showed it to them and Carrol Henderson kindly took a photo of him and his bass and kindly told him he would email him a copy.
The fishermen told us they had seen a pair of loons while they were out.  But they were much further away from the LoonCam than I had expected them to be.  So we did not know if it was our loons or some other loons.
Just as we were ready to head out, a unique boat with a generator and HUGE banks of lights pulled up and launched.  I had seen them for the first time a couple nights before.  They turn on the lights and it lights up the whole area like daylight!  That could cause a problem.  The were bow and arrow fishermen who were out to catch some big carp.
I explained who they were to Kevin and he agreed that it could be a problem if they had lights that big and bright.  But I said let me go talk to them.
So I went over and called them back into the dock.
I explained what we were going to be doing tonight and that their lights might pose a problem.  So I said , "I hate to even ask you this but would you be willing to restrict your activity to a certain part of the lake away from where we expect to see the loons?"  
Right away, the boat owner volunteered, "We can go to another lake if you like."
I told him "No, I hate for you to have to do that.  Let's try it where you fish on this part of the lake while we work with the loons on the other parts.  And if it doesn't work maybe we can come and talk to you again."
They were very agreeable and very willing and accomodating.
And so now it was our time to head out to look for loons.
Kevin, Steve, Luke, Lance and I got into the boat and out we went.
I directed them to the area where I expected we would find out LoonCam loons.  But as hard as we looked, we did not see any loons.  This was going to be even more difficult than even I had anticipated.
As we were going across the lake, Kevin said something that was new to me.  He said that his experience has been that it is usually the male the spends the night with the chick.  The female will be somewhere close by but it is usually the male who is with the chicks during the night.  I had never heard that before.  But that is where there is a wealth of practical experience from the USGS staff.
So Kevin suggested that we try to find and catch the female first.  She would be easier to catch if we did her first and then caught the male and the chick after we had her in captivity.
Back and forth we went with Kevin and Luke in the front of the boat scanning the surface with the bright lights.
But there were no loons in sight.  None.  No where.
My heart sank at the possibility that we might not actually catch our loons after all this anticipation.
After going back and forth several times and not seeing one loon, we stopped and played some wail calls.  And then sat and waited in anticipation.  Silence.  Then a couple more calls.  And we waited.
Then there were a couple wails from the area where I had thought the loons would be.  But we hadn't seen them there.
And then another call from across the lake ... where the fishermen said they had seen a pair of loons.
At least we knew that there were actually loons on the lake!
We decided that it was probably the male with the chick in the area I had laid out and that it must be the female all the way across the lake.  Kevin was surprised that she was so far away from the male and the chick.  I told him that this seemed to be a 'dysfunctional marriage'.
So we headed across the lake again to look for our female loon.
We had only gotten about half way across when there in the light we spotted her!  She obviously was answering the call from the other loon and was on her way to join them.
So we circled around and started following her and trying to catch up with her.
We got almost next to her.  Almost close enough for the net.  Would we get our first loon of the evening?  This was harder than any of us had anticipated.
Just as we got up to her, she dove with a splash!
She was gone.
We stopped and we waited.  Bright lights scanned the surface of the lake.  Wherever it was that she surfaced, it was outside of our spotlights.  The first attempt had not been successful.
We watched and we waited.
But no female loon.
Disappointment but not despair. 
Since we had not been able to capture her, we decided that we needed to go find the other loon we had heard.  The one that was probably the male with the chick.
So off we went to that part of the lake.
Would this one be more successful?  Would we find them?  Would we be able to capture them?  Or would we face the same thing that we faced with the female?
[Obviously this is going to take more than one post to tell you all that happened.  I will be gone for the next couple days so it will be a couple days before I can post the next installment.  Sorry to keep you on the edge of your seat waiting for the misses, near misses, successes, injuries and all the other things that happened.]
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Copyright 2012  Larry Backlund