Friday, June 6, 2014 5:24 am CDT

55 degrees F     Clear     Calm

Sunrise   5:26 am CDT     Sunset   8:58 pm CDT

Expected Egg Hatch TODAY through June 11

Today is the BIG day!

The first day that we could potentially see one of the eggs hatch.

It isn't a guaranteed thing by any means.  But then is anything guaranteed, especially when you are watching life unfold here on the LoonCam?!

What surprises or concerns will come next?

Yesterday we apparently had a very large hatch of dragonflies.  They were all over the place.

But we still have not had the main hatch of mayflies, which surprises me.  It surprises me because I saw several mayflies almost a week ago and figured that it would be only a few days before the main hatch started.  

But they seem to be on their own schedule.

In addition to that, we had fights and possible injuries and even fires!

Yesterday there were two territorial confrontations with an intruder loon that has shown up the last couple days.

Those confrontations drew the loons off the the nest for over an hour and a half in the morning and almost an hour in the afternoon.

It is not something you want to see when we are so close to hatching!

The good part is that if there are chicks in the eggs, they should be far enough along in their development that they are generating their own heat.  And on a relatively mild day and not a hot blazing sun, hopefully they are ok.

But it does not make it any easier to watch it happen and watch the eggs exposed for so long.

I have found that there are times when I just have to walk away from watching the loons, either live or on my computer screen.  There is nothing I can do.  And to watch too closely just causes more concern than I can stand or need.

It is easy to say that but oh so hard to do!

Both of the confrontations by the male and female with the intruder loon involved a lot of circling by all three loons, splash diving, face offs, but very little vocalization.

And ultimately there was a penguin dance and what I think was a stab in each case.  That would seem to end each confrontation.

But in neither confrontation was there a lot of fighting or violence, other than the potential stab.

But who knows what happened underwater when they would disappear for a minute or more at a time!

I said a couple days ago that I would explain the "penguin dance" more.

When two loons face off against each other, usually two males, at the most aggressive part of the encounter they may raise their bodies completely out of the water vertically.  The head usually will be lowered, most of the time the wings held tightly alongside their body.  They are paddling furiously underwater to support their weight out of the water in this position.

Apparently they are trying to show the other loon that they are larger and stronger and tougher and trying to intimidate the other loon to leave the territory.

It is called a "penguin dance" since they really do look like a penguin as they do it.

Usually this lasts for no more than 15 seconds or so before they settle back down into the water.

Yesterday morning, the penguin dance lasted longer than I have ever seen.  It seemed like a minute but I did not time it so I am not sure.  It probably was much shorter but in the midst of it, it seemed like a long time.

Unusually, it also involved one of the loons holding his wings out thereby looking even bigger and more threatening.  I have seldom seen that.  And even after the other loon settled back into the water, the one loon held that penguin dance position with his wings spread out for 10 seconds or more.

The other thing I mentioned is the "stab".

It is exactly what it sounds like.

About the only offensive weapon that a loon has is its long sharp beak.

And it is long.  And it is very sharp.

And it is dangerous!

In handling loons, that is the main thing you have to watch out for - the beak.  A loon will use it to stab anything that is a threat to it.  I have a friend who was stabbed in the back by a loon while they were banding loons.  She was ever ready to say, "I have the scar to prove it."

There have been instances of one loon stabbing another loon, usually in the breast, and actually killing the other loon.

The beak and the stab are nothing to mess around with!

As he has done almost every day this season, the male has taken the long overnight shift with no break.  As dawn breaks right now, he has been on the nest just over 11 hours.  And I do not see the female anywhere in sight.

Which brings us to the other excitement from yesterday.

Last night chat was all abuzz with concern about "missing feathers" on the wing of both the male and the female.  But of even more concern was a possible injury on the left breast of the male as he got up onto the nest for the night shift!

I could see what people were talking about in both instances.

On the loon's wings, there seem to be a tuft of feathers that often times blow in the breeze.

I have seen them before.  But I need to do more research on them to see if there is anything that has ever been documented.  Or what the purpose is of those "loose feathers".

It seems to be something that is usually there on most loons when I have watched for it.

I remember when I first saw it a number of years ago.

Our chicks had hatched.  They were swimming with the adults some distance from the nest.  We had taken the pontoon out around the lake.  As we were coming back in, we could see the loons swimming over on that area of the lake.

But there was also an eagle sitting in one of the trees along the shore.  He was also obviously watching.

Suddenly the eagle dive bombed the loons!  And then he flew back up in the tree.

One of our people on the pontoon screamed, "He GOT one of the chicks!"  And it looked like he had because we could only see one chick and the loons were calling loudly.

But to our great relief, soon we were able to see the second chick.

The eagle had not taken the chick.  But it was enough to cause great concern for all of us.  It is bad enough to lose a chick.  But to actually witness it made it even worse.  Fortunately in this case the eagle did not get the little loon chick.

But it was not too long after that that I first saw this "tuft of feathers" on the wing of the loon.  I was convinced for the longest time that it was from the eagle attack.  Since then, I have seen it many times and it seems to be a natural occurrence.

I have named them the "flutter feathers" since they often flutter in the breeze.

Now getting back to why I am even telling this.

Last evening, there was talk on chat of whether a "square" of feathers was missing on the wing of the female loon.  There seemed to be a black square with not the without the usual white dot pattern.

I could see it as well.  It was obvious.  And it was about in the place the "flutter feathers" normally are.

Chat was wondering weather the loon had been injured in one of the confrontations.  And then when they male got on  the nest, they noticed the same thing with the male.

I do not have an explanation for it.

I wish I could tell you that I did.  But I don't.  

I don't even have an explanation for the "flutter feathers" and it is definitely something that I have to do more research on sometime.

But even more concerning was an observation that people in the chatroom made when the male got on the nest.

There seemed to be a very distinct "protrusion" on the white of his left breast.  And the speculation was that it was an injury from one of the fights.  Maybe even a broken rib or something.

Once again, I could see it as well.  It seemed very obvious.  It was as if you took a pen and pressed it against a piece of white cloth from behind.   About that same shape and size.

I have never seen anything like it before either.

And I along with everyone else became very worried.

It was again one of those times when you just have to "walk away".

Unless the loon was in obvious distress, there is nothing that I could or would be able to do anyway.  So I had to force myself not to worry about it.

That "forcing" didn't work very well.

The only thing that gave me comfort was that there was no sign of any blood that would confirm and injury.

Also, it was comforting to see that the loon did not really seem to be in any pain or discomfort.  Although as I watched, my mind manufactured 'symptoms' that he was not moving as easily as he always had.  But I think that was me, not him.

Was it a broken bone?  Had he been injured?  What was it?  There WAS something there that was different.

It was something that bothered me all night long.

And this morning I could still see a little bit of it although I have not gotten a really good view this morning.

Another possibility hit me just now!

And to tell you the truth, it makes me feel better even if it is not true!

Could it possibly be something that he had eaten and it was distending his crop (I think loons have 'crops' but that is also something I have never even thought about) and poking out so that it presses against he outer skin?

I am not even sure what it would be that he had eaten that would do that.

But since he doesn't seem to be in any real discomfort or pain, that is the explanation that I am going to hold onto for now!  If nothing else for my own peace of mind and mental well being.

But I do NOT know if that is true or not.

But now back to the main event - the eggs and possible chicks.

Oh, one other thing first.  I mentioned "even fires" and said I would say a word about it.

About midday yesterday, the sky across the lake was filled with thick black smoke and people could actually see it on the cam.

I am sorry to tell you that it was a house that burned to the ground.

The fire was a couple miles from the lake but the smoke could be clearly seen and people even heard the sirens on here from the fire trucks going to the blaze.

A family of six lost absolutely everything and the house literally burned to the ground.  Fortunately they are all safe although they lost a number of pets in the fire which has been very hard on the kids.  Our church has started a drive to get at least 6 complete sets of clothes for everyone in the family and other necessities since they have nothing left.

In the midst of tragedy, you see the goodness in people.

OK, now to the main event.

The eggs apparently have not hatched yet, although I have not been able to see under the male loon yet.

However, he does not seem to be exhibiting the "twitches" that I would expect if the eggs were hatching or had already hatched.

5:17 pm tonight will be exactly 25 1/2 days since the first egg was laid.

That is the earliest that I have been able to document a hatch in previous years.

So watch closely today.  Let you friends and family and coworkers and teachers and, well, let everyone know that now is the time to watch closely.

It could happen any day.

It could happen any MINUTE!

You do NOT want to miss it!

Questions or Comments?  LoonCam (at) yahoo (dot) com

Copyright 2014  Larry R Backlund