Tuesday, May 20, 2014 9:50 am CDT

48 degrees F    Cloudy and Foggy     Calm

Sunrise   5:37 am CDT     Sunset   8:42 pm CDT

A thick brooding fog lays over the lake.

Not a wisp of air is moving.

The lake is like a mirror, reflecting the loon sitting on the nest.

She often goes into hangover - it must be the female on the nest.

Then there are voices.  Distant, disembodied voices coming from somewhere out in the fog.

Like ghosts appearing out of nowhere, a canoe with three teenagers slips into view out of the fog.

Then another.  And another.  And another.  And another.

The loon quietly slips off the nest into the water and swims away from the nest.  Not away from the canoes but out toward the canoes.  She puts herself between the nest and the canoes.

She sits watching, half submerged, with not much more than her head and neck above the water.

More canoes emerge from the fog.  Thirteen canoes in all.  

They are apparently from a YMCA camp that is located on the lake.  Out practicing their canoeing skills on a wonderfully moody foggy morning.

The male loon has now also appeared and takes up a position between the nest and the canoes along with the female.

The loons rise up in the water and flap their wings.  Not a sign of distress.  Just the normal relaxed wing flap of a loon.  They sit.  They swim.  They carefully watch the canoers.

Most of the teenagers are oblivious to the nest or the loons.  But a few of them point at the loons when they see them.

However, none of them come toward the loons or the nest.  They maintain a respectful distance.

As the last canoe passes,  the male loon starts a series of yodels in the general direction of the departing canoes.  As if to say, "Keep moving!  This is MY territory!"  He makes a total of six yodels as the canoes disappear into the fog, one by one.

And then they are gone.  Only their voices remain.

A few minutes later, the male returns to the nest and gets up on it.  His bands and his data recorder are clearly visible on his legs.

He goes through the usual routine of rolling the egg, positioning them ever so carefully and then settles down on them.  Within a couple minutes he is back up and repeats the procedure all over again.

Most birds have what is called a "brood patch" on their breast.  A bare patch of skin that they press against their eggs and transfer body heat to the eggs to incubate them.  Some birds even pull out feathers and down to create that bare patch of skin.

Loons are somewhat different, although similar in intent.

Loons tend to position the eggs far to the back of their body near the legs.

There is not a bare patch of skin there nor a brood patch.

But there is an unusually large number of blood vessels in this particular area of their body that very effectively transfers body heat to the eggs.

And that is why they so carefully roll and position the eggs far to the back of their body before them settle down on them.

Now you know why they do what they do when they are so carefully positioning the eggs.

There is one other thing that you may want to watch for.

Normally when a loon is swimming or just sitting on the nest without eggs, the tips of the wings cross and make an "X" as they lay just above the tail feathers.

However, when the loon is incubating eggs, those wing tips are carefully tucked UNDER the tail and then the tail is lowered to keep them in place.  The tail almost locks the wingtips in place.

That way the wing feathers form a very nice tight weatherproof seal against the cold or the rain.  An amazing little detail of what loons do that just adds to the wonder and magnificence of these beautiful and iconic birds.

Enjoy them today as you watch.  Look for some of those little details that add so much to our understanding of the loons.

It is hard to believe but we are already almost a quarter of the way through the incubation period of these eggs.  It will not be long before we can expect to see new loon chicks come into the world.

The mystery of all this is almost beyond comprehension and the time that we have with them is ever so fleeting.

And ever so marvelous!

Questions or Comments?  LoonCam (at) yahoo (dot) com Because of the volume of questions, I am not able to answer each one personally.  But I eventually DO read each and every message.  And I will try to address some of your questions here in the blog.

Copyright 2014  Larry R Backlund