Saturday, May 16, 2015 7:30 am CDT

57 degrees CDT     Mostly Cloudy     Wind  Calm

Sunrise   5:42 am CDT     Sunset   8:38 pm CDT


Birds sing their morning song.

Peaks of sunshine sneak through what is a mostly cloudy sky.

The lake is calm except for a few ripples from whispers of wind.

The geese seem to be much quieter now.  At least three families of geese have new goslings that apparently have hatched within the last few days.

And there is a loon sitting on a nest in Minnesota taking care of the 2 precious eggs that contain the promise of a new generation of loons.

Does life get much better?

Once again overnight the male has done the yeoman's service of sitting on the eggs, keeping them warm and keeping them protected from predators.  This last shift overnight was 15 hours and 8 minutes!

It would be interesting to know what goes through a loon's mind that drives them to spend so much time in an environment that is so foreign to them.  For being out of the water is very foreign to them.

They were made for the water.  That is where they spend their life.

But for these few short weeks, something changes and drives them to leave the water and to sit high and dry on a nest.  Out of the water.  In hot sun and cold and rain and wind and sometimes even frost and snow.  Something so deep within them causes them to totally change their behavior for these few weeks.

Luckily for us and future generations of loons that change in behavior results in 2 new loon chicks!

Today they are predicting rain moving in later this afternoon and lasting through most of tomorrow.

Temperatures are supposed to get up into the upper 70s today.  So the clouds and the rain will help to keep the loon on the nest cooler.

You will notice when the loon is sitting on the nest and the sun is out, that they will sit with their beak open.  They are doing exactly what it looks like - panting.  Much like a dog panting, it is the loon's way of coping with being out of the cool water and it helps to cool them off.

Before we had sound on the LoonCam, some people thought that the loon was calling when it had its beak open.  And they were wishing they could hear the loon calling all the time.  But no, the loon is not calling.  It is just trying to stay cool.

Loons for the most part are very silent when they are on the nest.  That seems to be a way of not drawing attention to the location of the nest.

But with today probably being a warm day, watch for the loon panting as it sits on the nest.  It would probably be much happier to be swimming in the cool water.  But sit it must.  The eggs demand it.

Also watch for something else today.

This is one of the many miracles about loons that just amazes me.

But it also makes me feel sorry for the loon.

You may notice very small flies that fly around the loon's head and land especially around the eyes and the 'nostrils'.

This is a species of black flies.  Not the kind of black flies that fly around us and bite humans.  This is a black fly that is the size of a gnat or even smaller.  But it is not a gnat either.

It is a black fly that to me is one of the stunning examples of the specialization of nature.  For these black flies are thought to feed almost exclusively on loon blood!

I shake my head every time I think of it.

How can a fly develop and survive if it only feeds on loon blood?!

The scientific name for that black fly is Simulium euryadminiculum. 

It was first described in 1949 in Ontario.  But has since been studied and verified by a number of different scientists through the years.  The latest being studies done by the University of Northern Michigan.

All of these studies seem to confirm that this particular black fly only targets loons.  In fact, in several tests, when given the choice between an old museum loon skin specimen and a live duck, the fly targeted the old loon skin!

It is not known what the attractant is.  But it is thought that one of the prime possibilities may be the smell given off from oil that loons produce and use to coat their feathers.

There is a small gland at the upper surface of the loon's tail that produces this oil.  If you watch a loon grooming, you can see them use their beak to rub against this gland.  And then they will spread that oil over their feathers.

You can actually feel and see this gland if you handle a loon.  It is a small bump on the surface back by the loon's tail.

Now as amazing as the specialization of this black fly is, one cannot help but feel sorry for our loons being tormented by the fly as they sit on the nest.

They do not have our luxury of bug sprays.  They cannot go inside a screened in porch to get away from this biting black fly.  They have to just sit on the nest and endure it.  

There have been cases observed where the black flies have become so bad that loons have actually abandoned their nest.

For no other reason than black flies, I am sure the loon would prefer to stay in the water.

So watch today for this black fly around the loon's head.

And if you want, brush your computer screen and see if you can help the loon by keeping the black flies away!!


Copyright   2015   Larry R Backlund