57 degrees F Clear Wind Calm
Sunrise 5:27 am CDT Sunset 9:05 pm CDT
I promised I would give you a little bit of an update about the capture of the loons on Thursday night.
We have talked about how we do it before but not everyone has read that information and some have asked how we catch the loons.
It is quite the operation and certainly one that you can never be guaranteed of success.
This time there were 5 of us in the boat - Kevin Kenow and Luke from the USGS who I have worked with a number of times before and Janine and Andrew from the MN DNR.
The most important conditions are that it must be absolutely dark and that the loons must have chicks in order to capture them. More about that in a minute. If there is any light in the sky it makes it much more difficult because the loons can see you.
So we do not go out on the lake until between 11 pm and midnight. And ideally do it when it is a new moon so that there is not any moonlight.
Just before sunset I had watched to see where the loons were so that we knew what part of the lake to start looking for them. Although between that time and when we are actually on the lake, they can be far away from where I last saw them. On Thursday night, all 4 loons were swimming right out in front of my place. That has been a little unusual this year since they have ranged from one side of the lake to the other.
We headed out across the lake to where I had last seen them.
We were not able to locate them at first but soon spotted them We use bright spotlights and scan the surface of the lake until we locate them. Then keeping the spotlights trained on them we slowly maneuver towards them
We see only one of the adults but it has both of the chicks with it.
By keeping the bright lights trained on them they are not able to see us as we approach. And the reason it is necessary to have the chicks there is that the loons will tend stay on the surface to protect the chicks. Without the chicks, the loon would just dive immediately and it would be impossible to catch them.
As Luke maneuvers the boat up close to them, Kevin is in the bow of the boat with a big muskie net. When we are right next to the loons, Kevin scoops the adult loon up out of the water. It is the female loon.
Then begins the flurry of activity and the time that is the most dangerous time for both the loon and us.
Obviously the loon is trying desperately to get away, even though it is in the net. So it is imperative to quickly get control of the loon so that it does not injure itself. And that is also the time that the danger of being stabbed with that very sharp beak is a real danger.
So we quickly get control of the loon and place it in a plastic bin brought along especially for that purpose.
Now it is time to try to capture the chicks. We cannot leave them alone on the lake.
In short order, both chicks are scooped out of the water by the same method and placed in another plastic bin for safe keeping. The chicks are peeping loudly and the female answers to them from the plastic bin she is in.
Now we must try to find the male. After all it is because of him that we are out here. To try to retrieve the data recorder/geo locater tag that we placed on him 5 years ago.
We look and look but we cannot find him.
So we stop the boat, turn out the lights and play the call of a loon yodeling. As most of you already know, the yodel is the call made ONLY by a male loon. And it is a territorial call.
By playing this call our intent is to make the male think that there is another male in his territory and hopefully he will answer and let us know where he is.
Sure enough. It works. And we hear him answer from half way around the lake.
We head over to the area of the lake and find him fairly quickly.
But it isn't going to be easy. He doesn't have the chicks with him and so as soon as we start to get close to him, he dives out of sight. And then we have to try to find out where he comes back to the surface.
This game of hide and seek goes on for several times. It becomes obvious that we are not going to catch him.
So Kevin makes the decision to release one of the chicks in the hope that the chick and the male will come together and give us a chance to catch the male.
We release the chick and then sit back and relax.
In the darkness we can hear the chick calling. And then a distant call of the male loon.
Just listening to them it seems like they are swimming toward each other. But wait we must.
Then when the calling dies down it probably means that the male has found the chick and that they are together. Now there is a chance we can catch him because he will tend to stay on the surface with the chick rather than diving out of sight.
Once again we scan the surface of the lake with the spotlights.
Fairly quickly we spot the male loon. And yes, the chick is swimming right next to him.
We slowly make our way over to him, keeping the spotlights trained on him so that he cannot see us.
Once again as we come right up alongside him, Kevin makes an expert scoop with the big muskie net and the male loon is in the net.
Then comes the flurry of activity to try to gain control of him without hurting him or us. He is extremely strong.
But we get control of him and put him in another plastic bin to safely hold him.
Now we must also catch the chick. For the second time.
I joked about what must be going through the chick's mind - "Come on guys! Didn't we just do this?!!"
With the chick safely in his plastic bin with the other chick, we now head back to shore.
Kevin removes the data recorder from the leg of the male and weighs the male and makes a number of measurements and draws a blood sample.
Now it is time to do the same thing with the female loon.
After the measurements are made and the blood sample drawn, it is time to place the bands on the female. We gave her a red band on one leg and a green band on the other.
Now that the work is done, we take some pictures and then head back out onto the lake with the four loons.
Everything has gone very well. And the credit for that goes primarily to the expertise of Kevin and Luke who have done so much of this type of work.
When we get back to the area of the lake where we captured them, we carefully release all 4 loons.
The chicks quickly find the parents and the four of them swim off together seemingly none the worse for the experience.
And next year we will be able to tell whether it is the same pair that uses the LoonCam nest.
Copyright 2017 Larry R Backlund