Thursday, May 16, 2019 11:29 pm CDT

54 degrees F Clear Wind 6mph N

Sunrise 5:41 am CDT Sunset 8:37 pm CDT

[Yesterday morning I had almost completed the whole blog entry before leaving town on a short trip. But the pesky internet gremlins somehow completely erased it before I could post it! And I did not have time to completely rewrite it before I had to leave. So I will try to remember a little bit of what I had talked about and post it now.]

It looks as if Mother Nature has finally listened to SIMON and given us several spectacular Minnesota spring days in a row.

The last couple days it was up in the low 80’s and today it got to 78 degrees F. Surprisingly the Twin Cities had their first 80 degree day today, some 240+ days since they last reached 80 degrees. So here at Loon Lake we beat them out on the first 80 degree day.

The loons pant as they sit on the nest in the warm sunshine. Just like a dog pants, a loon pants to help get rid of extra body heat. They are more at home in the cool or even cold water than they are sitting in the heat of the direct sunshine on the nest.

The major part of what I wrote about yesterday (which was lost) was about the black flies which plague loons.

In one of the most host specific cases in all of nature I think, these particular black flies feed almost exclusively on loon blood! Talk about specialization!

This particular species of black flies that feed on loon blood is called Simulium annulus. It used to be called Simulium euryadminiculum when I was first learning about them. Who changed the name and why I have never understood. But it is the same fly.

Because of the wind today, these black flies were not quite as much of a bother to the loons as they have been for the last several days. So for the loons, there is an advantage to a little bit of wind.

These blood-sucking black flies can really torment loons. They land especially on the black head of the loon and then burrow through the fine smooth feathers to get down to the skin where they can then bite and suck the loon’s blood.

This year is one of the worst I have seen in some time with the number of black flies on our loon’s head. But today the wind gave them a little bit of a respite.

In bad outbreaks of the flies, loons can sometimes be seen with welts and scabs on their heads from the attack of these flies.

In particularly bad years, the black flies can torment the loons so much that they actually drive them from the nest repeatedly. And they may cause the loon to abandon the nest completely.

There was a particularly bad outbreak of these black flies in 2014 in Wisconsin. Estimates by several researchers said that up to 70% of loon nests were abandoned that year because of black fly attacks.

The good news is that these black flies only live for 2 to 3 weeks. The bad news is that their life span occurs just about the same time as when loons are on the nest.

When a loon is swimming, they can dive and drive most of the flies off. But sitting on the nest they are particularly vulnerable to their attacks.

Cooler weather is more comfortable for the loons. But the bad news of that is that the black flies live a little bit longer in the cooler weather. Warmer weather like we have had the last several days speeds up the life span of the flies. But it also allows them to be more numerous and more active during their shortened life span due to the warmer weather. And therefore more attacks on the loons.

So the loons are faced with a dilemma. Cooler weather that is more comfortable with less activity from the flies but a lengthened time that the flies are alive and active. Or warmer weather which is less comfortable for the loon on the nest, MORE black flies who are more active but who will die sooner.

As with so many things in life, there are no simple black and white choices. Even for loons.

These black flies can also carry diseases that they can transmit to loons.

There have been a couple studies of the particular black fly and their specificity to loons and loon blood.

One of the early studies took museum specimens of loon skins and other waterfowl and placed them near a lake. By a stunning margin of well over 90%, the black flies chose the loon skins and almost completely ignored the other waterfowl skins.

It is not completely clear whether it is a chemical signal or smell that the flies follow. Or if it is the shape and pattern and color of the loons. It appears that both are factors in their choice but it is not completely understood.

More research needs to be done to understand it more completely.

But you don’t have to worry. These black flies don’t like you or your blood. They are not like gnats that can torment humans with their buzzing around our heads and biting us and sucking our blood. But gnats are a perfect example to help us humans understand how pesky the black flies can be to loons.

Now put yourself in the loon’s place where you are sitting out in the open for hours on end, unable to leave. With gnats flying all around your head and biting you and leaving welts and drawing blood. And you don’t have hands or a swatter or bug spray to keep them away!

Now you know what the loons have to put up with.

Over the next few days the weather is going to cool significantly from what it has been the last few days.

Starting tomorrow night we are supposed to get rain through Sunday afternoon or evening. Some models are predicting several inches of rain over that time with some possibility of severe weather as well.

The loons will handle the rain just fine. Not so much if we get severe weather.

You may have noticed over the last couple nights that the camera has cycled between regular color and infrared mode for several hours. Some have speculated that there is something wrong with the infrared light or the sensor in the camera.

At this point I am not too concerned. We are at almost full moon phase and it has been very bright. I think the camera cycling is just due to the great light sensitivity of this camera and the bright moon light.

You have seen the camera do this every evening and every morning at sunset and sunrise as it tries to decide which mode to use. Full color or infrared.

The real test will come tomorrow night and over the next couple days as rain and clouds move in. If the camera does not do it when it is cloudy at night, then it is almost certain that it is simply due to the moonlight being so bright.

It is hard to believe that this weekend we are coming up on one full week since the eggs were laid.

We are almost a quarter of the way through their incubation already! It is hard to believe. And it is also hard to understand all the changes and miracle of life that is taking place inside those eggs right now.

You don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Now is also the time to tell your family and your friends and your kids and your grandkids to be sure to log on and watch the LoonCam. All too soon another “loon season” will be done and finished with.

Another thing you might want to do is to encourage your kids and grandkids to ask their teacher if they can watch the LoonCam at school and learn from it! This is especially valuable for science classes and biology classes.

Or you may want to call your local school yourself and encourage them to take advantage of this wonderful learning opportunity.

Instead of trying to remember long confusing internet addresses, I have found that it is easiest for people to remember if you just tell them to Google “Larry’s Loons” or “Larry’s LoonCam”. And up will come all the information to find the LoonCam.

And there will also be links to so much other information. As well as hundreds if not thousands of videos that people have recorded and posted online. Many of you right here have been faithful in documenting the activities of our loons on the LoonCam.

So be sure to encourage your family and friends and kids to take advantage of this ever so brief time that they can see loons up close and personal. And learn so much from the experience!

I will never forget the Thank You letter that I got a few years ago from a teacher in California. She said she had NEVER had anything that was as useful as a motivational tool as the LoonCam. She said each morning the kids would come in and say, “‘Mrs Johnson’, can we watch the LoonCam?”

She would tell them ‘as soon as ALL of you get your work done, we will turn on the LoonCam!’

And so the kids would buckle down and do their work. And the smarter kids would of course finish first. but they knew that they could not watch the LoonCam until ALL the kids finished their work. So the kids that finished first would help the other kids!

She said she had never had such an effective motivational tool as the LoonCam.

Happy Loon Watching!

Copyright 2019 Larry R Backlund