12:31am CDT Tuesday, August 6, 2013

  61 degrees F     Clear     Wind  3mph N

In the last update I gave you one week ago today, I told you about trying to capture the loons on the lake here to retrieve the data recorders that we put on the loons last year.

For the last year, those recorders have been recording everywhere that our loons have traveled and so they contain so much vital and valuable information to understand loons better.

But in order to retrieve the data, we have to be able to catch the loons and take the data recorder off their legs and download the data.

In addition to showing where they have been, the data will also show how deep they have been diving for food.  And with data from other loons, especially mates, whether they spend much time together on their wintering grounds or as they travel.  Or if they spend any time together.

But since the loons did not have chicks, it becomes very difficult if not impossible to catch them.

Kevin Kenow and his team are trying to develop methods to capture loons without chicks by taking advantage of their territorial behavior.  But at best it is diffcult.  And we were not able to capture them.

So we will have to wait until next year to try to capture them and download the data off their recorders.

But there is news for you that I have hinted at a couple times but have not told you.

I apologize for keeping you in suspense but I think you know me by now - that I will usually not say something unless I am sure about it.  And up until last week, I had only been 70 or 80% sure.  So I didn't say anything.

The news is this - we have had a change of mate with our LoonCam loons!  There is a NEW female with the male.

Let me just recap a little bit of what I have told you so far this year.

You will remember that I told you that the LoonCam female from last year returned the day the ice was going out of the lake.  I was able to verify this from the bands that we put on her last year.

But the strange thing was that she was alone.  

The male was no where to be seen.  In fact, in consultation with Kevin from the USGS, we had sort of come to the conclusion that we may have lost the male over the winter.  Possibly to botulism on Lake Michigan where almost 1600 loons were confirmed dead.  Or lost to a shark attack or to poison from algae on the Gulf of Mexico.

But then lo and behold, 3 weeks after the female loon came back, the LoonCam male from last year appeared!

This was also positively verified by the bands that we had placed on him last summer.

Where had he been?  Why was he so late?  If one loon comes back before the other, it is usually thought to be the male that returns first.  But I have seen them usually come back together.

So it was good to see a pair of loons swimming off shore and I was hoping that they would again use the nest.

But here the plot thickens.

As I tried to watch them through the binoculars and telescope, I could never see the bands on the female's leg.  More and more it was looking like this was a NEW female now with the male loon!  But I could never get a good enough look to be absolutely sure.  I knew that the female from last year had been here.  I knew that there was a 'single' loon on another part of the lake and also another pair of loons.  And then there was this pair of loons that stayed in the area of the lake where the nest is located.

I became 70-80% sure that this was a new female.  That is when I hinted about it.   But I still was not sure enough to say anything to you.

But when we were out on the lake last week we were able to verify that the female with last year's LoonCam male definitely did NOT have any bands.  She was a new female.

Why was there a change in mates?  Who knows?  One of the unknowable questions that we are not smart enough to answer.

As I have told you before, it has for many, many years been the 'accepted wisdom' that loons mate for life.  But in the last 10 years or so, there has been some evidence that mate changes do take place.  And that is obviously what we have had here.  Not only a mate change, but BOTH mates back here on the lake.  Just not together.

I keep thinking back to how 'dysfunctional' the pair last year seemed to be at times.  Could that, for whatever reason, be part of the reason for a change of mates this year?

In speaking to a couple groups, I joked that there was a reason the male was 3 weeks late in coming back.  He was tied up in divorce court.  And then he had to fly out to Vegas for a 'quicky wedding' with a new 'chick' before he could come back to Minnesota with her!  And so it took him extra time to get here.

But listen to this!

It gets even stranger and more interesting.

Last week we were able to verify something else.

The other pair of loons on the lake has ALSO HAD A CHANGE OF MATE!

Is change of mates more common than anyone had ever thought?  Or is this some kind of a fluke?  Is it something VERY unusual?  Once again we are brought face to face with the fact of how little we actually know about loons.

Just when we start to think we know them and are beginning to understand them, something like this comes along and shows us how very little we know.  And how much more there is to learn.

Thank you for coming along on this journey of learning!

Tonight shortly before sunset a pair of loons was swimming together right out in front of my place.  All seemed to be right with the world once again.  But in the back of my mind was the nagging question, can I still call them "our loons"?

Or which ones were they?

Copyright 2013     Larry R Backlund