Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:43pm CDT

70 degrees F     Clear     Calm
Sunrise  5:43am     Sunset  8:54pm
[I apologize that it has taken me so long to give you this update on what went on the night we banded the loons.  I have been out of town for a couple days and other things have intruded.]
I left you  where we had located the female loon but she had escaped and we were not able to capture her.  So now it was on to see if we could find the male loon and our chick from the LoonCam.
I refer to the female and the male and I am sure some of you are wondering how we knew which was which.  You have heard me say countless times that I cannot tell the difference between the male and the female unless they are next to each other and I can see the difference in size.  And from that know that in all probablility the male is the larger loon.
Or if I see one of the loons yodeling, I know that is the male.
But on this night we had neither of those clues.
So how can I say one is the male and the other the female?
I learned something that night.  Kevin Kenow from the USGS, the one heading up this project [btw, he and his team are probably out on a lake right capturing more loons even now as I am writing this], said his experience has shown him that most often it is the male that is with the chick during the night and the female is somewhere nearby in the same area.
This is the opposite of what most previous research has shown about incubation on the nest.  Some of that research indicated that the female typically spent slightly more time on the nest (60% vs 40%) and usually were the ones on the nest at night.
So going by Kevin's vast experience, we assumed that the male was the loon that was with the chick.
So since we were unable to capture the female, we went off in search of the male and the chick.
We had heard a call from the part of the lake where I originally expected that we would find our loons.  So we headed for that area.
In fairly short order, we spotted a loon and a chick.  Were they our LoonCam loons?  Every expectation was that they would be.
We rapidly approached the loons keeping the bright spotlights on them so that they could not make out who or what we were.  If they saw us, they would rapidly dive and disappear.  But we tried to make as little noise as possible and not to alarm them.
The male swam back and forth with the chick staying close.  He obviously was concerned but not panicked.
Slowly we made our way up to him.
Kevin put down his spotlight and took up the net as he leaned over the bow of the boat.  Slowly we approached the loon as it swam back and forth, trying to figure out what these bright lights were.
Now the loon and chick were just a couple feet off the left side  of the bow of the boat.  With one deft swoop of the net, the loon was in the net and lifted high out of the water.  He struggled and flapped in the net.  But we had him.  Now to get him safely in the capture crate.
I opened the crate and Kevin and Luke tried to get control of the loon without getting injured and without injuring the loon.  In the crate it went and the cover went on securely, held down by bungee cords to make sure the loon did not knock the top off and escape.  The capture crate is just a plastic storage bin like you would use in your home.  Just big enough for the loon without too much extra space for it to thrash around.  Airholes were drilled in the top and bottom and there was padding in the bottom to protect the loon's feet.
One loon down and six more to go!
Now we turned our attention to the chick who was still swimming in the area as our spotlights illuminated him and disoriented him.
As the boat approached, he dove.  He swam right in front of the boat.  In the bright light of the spotlights, you could clearly see him as he swam underwater in front of the boat only 6 to 12 inches below the surface.
With one quick scoop of the net, we had our second loon... our little LoonCam chick that we all watched and fell in love with.
Once again, the cover came off the capture bin ... this time a much smaller plastic bin more suitable for the much smaller chick.  But otherwise very similar with airholes and padding in the bottom of the bin.
Things were beginning to look up.  We still did not have the female, but we did have the male and the chick.
So we headed back to shore to begin the banding process.
First the loon was weighed while it was still in the capture bin.  Luke recorded all the data as it was called out.  Then he asked me what 'name' I wanted to give to the loon.  I said that I had normally not named the loons (although I am not against it) since I could not tell one of them from the other anyway.  But he explained that it didn't have to be a "name" name, but just some kind of identifier in the scientific data to help identify this loon.  It was an honor to even be asked.
Like the very experienced team they are, Kevin and Steve quickly had the loon out of the bin and on a sheet on the ground.  They each knew what part of the loon to control as they reached into the bin and how to control the loon on the ground.
Measurements were taken of the loons length and head and beak and legs.  All of this gives a basis for comparison of these loons with other loons.
Then it was time to turn the loon over on its back without losing control of it.  Obviously it was important that they coordinated the turn so that both of them turned the loon over in the same direction!
Now it was time to draw blood samples for testing.  These will give indications of any accumulations of mercury or other toxins.
Then time for the bands!
Luke now asked me what color bands I wanted to use on this loon.  Once again I was somewhat caught off-guard since I had not even given any thought to doing that.  If I remember right, on this  male loon we put "blue stripe over silver" on the left leg and "silver over geolocater" on the right leg.  Things were happening so fast and so much went on that night that I am not 100% positive of that.  But I will get all the details of the bands and give them to you before the loons return next spring.
After the bands had been securely placed on the loon's legs, now there was one last thing to be done.  A couple feathers were clipped from both wings (the exact same feather from each wing) to also test for contaminants.
And the procedure was over on the first loon.
However, before the loon was placed back in the capture bin, I had the great honor of holding the loon while people took pictures.
Carefully I took the loon being very careful to control the head and beak and to keep the wings and feet under control.
What a humbling experience to be holding this magnificent bird that we had all watched for so many countless hours on the loon cam.  I knew how big loons were from handling them before, but it was once again amazing to realize how big they really are an how strong they are.
But the loon seemed very relaxed and did not struggle or fight.  Many many pictures were taken.
I am not sure what triggered it but the calmness of the loon changed quickly.  Whether it was flashes from the cameras or just that he had enough of all the 'indignities', suddently I had a very strong loon on my hands that was determined to escape.
As he struggled, I concentrated on keeping control of wings and feet and especially his head and beak.  I never felt any fear or concern that he was going to get away.  But he was trying with all his might to do just that.  At one point I think Kevin thought he might get loose because he came over to reach for the head.
But with a gentle squeeze the loon calmed down.
We placed him back into the capture bin.
Now it was time for the whole procedure to be repeated with our little chick.
All the same measurements were done.
It was then that someone said, "Larry, you're bleeding!"
I looked down at my arm and some blood was running down my arm.  Apparently during the struggle, the loon had left a couple of pretty good scratches in my forearm with one of its feet.  I had not even noticed it.  And even now it did not hurt that much.
But while they continued to work on the chick, someone else worked on my arm!
It was decided that the  chick was just a little too young and too small to be able to put a band on his leg.  One of the regular bands was just big enough that it would probably slip off his leg and be lost.  Any smaller band and it would probably restrict the normal growth in the loon chick's leg as it grew.
So reluctantly the decision was made to not place bands or a geolocater on the chick.
But before we were done, it was once again time for pictures and for a number of people to hold the chick.
[Click on the thumbnail to see a full size picture.]

(Photos courtesy Carrol Henderson)
Once again, what an amazing experience to hold this chick that we saw emerge from the egg just a few short weeks ago.  Although he is now much larger than when we first saw him.
He was incredibly soft!  There were no signs of any feathers coming in at all.  It was all incredibly soft, cuddly down.  And the chick did not struggle at all.  He was perfectly content to be held and to have his picture taken.  And every one wanted to hold him.
But then it was time for him to go back in the capture bin and back in the boat.
And we were on our way across the lake to return the male loon and the chick to the same general area where we had captured them.
Very quickly we were there and I was given the privilege to open the crate and release them.
And just like that they were back in the water and swimming together.
Seemingly no worse for the wear and now sporting some new 'jewelry'.
So two loons down and 5 more to go!
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Copyright 2012   Larry Backlund