11:32pm CDT Friday, September 6, 2013


76 degrees F     Clear     Calm Sunrise   6:40am CDT     Sunset   7:40pm CDT

We now enter a time of increased activity and some danger for our loons.

Some of them have already started and soon all of them will begin to move on their fall migration.  Most of them will fly more than 1000 miles to their wintering grounds on the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.  Along the way, many of them will stop over on one of the Great Lakes, especially Lake Michigan.

The flight alone is a grueling trip of over a thousand miles.  At up to 250 wing beats per minute and 90 miles per hour, it takes a lot of energy for a loon to fly from their beloved summer home to their wintering grounds.

But along the way, other dangers await as well.

Last year 1500 loon were found dead on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Many of them had perished from botulism, probably caused by eating invasive quagga mussels.  That number is how many were verified.  So probably there were even more that died and the dead loons were never discovered.

Weather and storms along the migration route are also a danger to loons.  Kevin Kenow, loon researcher with the US Geological Service, said that last spring during the migration north a number of loons were caught in ice storms and literally fell out of the sky coated in ice!

So it is no easy trip.

But our beautiful loons do it every year, as they have done for millenia.

The adults will begin to leave over the next month.  And then the young from this year's hatch will follow about a month later.  One of the many miracles of loons.  The chicks will find their way on their own along a route they have never flown before, to a place they have never been before.  How do they do it?  How do they know when to leave on their trip?  How do they know the route?  How do they know where they are supposed to end up?  And where should they spend the winter?

Some things are too wonderful to comprehend.

But the important thing is that the loons know when and where and how.

I have not seen the adult loons here for a few days now.  They may still be here or they may already be on their way on their long migration.

Two days ago I did see one of the immature loons that I told you about before - the ones that 'should not be back up north yet' and that makes one wonder if they are chicks from two or three years ago.  So at least one of the immature loons is still on the lake.

But soon all of them will be on the move once again.

And then our great northern lakes will go silent until next spring.  We will all be the poorer for the lack of the beautiful and haunting calls of the loon.

But it just makes us anticipate next spring even more and the return of our beloved loons.

For those of you in the Twin Cities area, tomorrow [Saturday] night at 6:30pm I will be part of the MNBound program.  The segment will feature what capture and banding  of loons last summer when we also placed data recorders on the loons legs to show where and when and how they migrated.  If you miss it tomorrow night or if you are somewhere else in the world, you should be able to find the program archived here on the MNBound website.

Copyright 2013   Larry R Backlund