Sunday, June 25, 2017 10:15 pm CDT

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

 

 

Friday, June 23, 2017 1:42 am CDT

58 degrees    Clear   Wind Calm

Sunrise  5:26 am CDT    Sunset 9:05 pm CDT

 

It has been a good night!

I have just gotten in off the lake with Kevin Kenow and his crew from the USGS.

We were able to capture our male loon and retrieve the data recorder/geo locater that he has been wearing for the last 5 years since we put it on him in 2012.

We also captured the female and both chicks.  We were able to band the female so next year you will be able to tell if it is her that comes back to the LoonCam again.  She now has a red band on one leg and a green band on the other leg.

But I am going to bed!

I will give you a more detailed report in the next couple days.

 

Copyright  2017   Larry R Backlund

 

 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 4:02 pm CDT

88 degrees  Sunny   Wind 3 mph S

5:26 am CDT    9:04 pm CDT

Summer is here!

Meteorological summer arrived about 11 pm last night.  And today is an absolutely wonderful relaxing summer day here in Minnesota.

The sun does not set until 9:04 pm for several nights this time of year.  And then the magical times of long twilight.

But what makes it even better is that the loons are swimming by out in front right now as I speak!

I have not seen them for the last 3 days.  And I have wondered how they are.

I have been gone so much again the last few days that I have not seen them nor had the time to look for them.  Two nights ago I heard them call from halfway around the lake.  When I went down to look I saw an eagle flying over that part of the lake.  But I could not see the loons.

So it is SO good to see them again right now.

The chicks have grown SO much.  They are now about half the length of the adult loons!  

They are hardly like the little chicks that we saw leave the nest two-and-a-half weeks ago.  They still have their down which has now turn to a dark brown.  They can now dive for short periods of time.  But they are still almost totally reliant on their parents to bring them food.

And that is what they are doing right now.  Both adults are busily bringing minnow after minnow to the chicks who eagerly gobble them up.

They look good.  They look healthy.  And they are very active.  

As the adults dive for minnows and fish (yes, by now they can eat small fish, not just minnows), they peer underwater to see what is going on down there.  I would also like to be able to be with them and peer down on the adults going after the fastest of little fish.

It is so gratifying to see them still not only surviving, but thriving.

Tomorrow night we are hoping to go out and capture the male to remove the data recorder that we put on his leg back in 2012.  It will be good to retrieve it and download the data to see where all he went after we banded him and put the data recorder on his leg.

It probably has not been recording anything for the last 3 years or so.  They are designed to record data for about a year.  But the experience has been that they have recorded data for 2 years.

So hopefully we will gain much more information about our loons in general and this loon in particular.  Where did he go after he left the lake here that fall?  When did he make the migration down to the Gulf?  Where did he spend the winter on the Gulf?  When did he come back in the spring?  How high and fast did he fly?  How deep did he dive?  Did he make the trip in one long phenomenal flight?  Or did he stop somewhere along the way.

So many questions.  And hopefully soon a few answers if we are able to capture him tomorrow night.  If we do, then begins the long task of analyzing all the data.

The chicks are still too young to be able to band them tomorrow night so that probably will not happen.   Whether Kevin feels like he should capture the female and band her tomorrow night is questionable.  We will have to wait and see.

So think of us tomorrow night.  In the darkest part of the night, probably sometime after midnight we will be out on the lake trying to find the loons, capture the male and retrieve the data recorder.

If we do, I will try to tell you what the data shows when I get a report on it.

But right now, everything feels right with the world.

And with our loons!

 

Copyright  2017    Larry R Backlund

 

Friday, June 16, 2017 10:15 am CDT

68 degrees F   Light Rain   Wind 2 mph S

Sunrise 5:25 am CDT  Sunset  9:03 pm CDT

 

Probably the biggest question that you have right now is what happened to the LoonCam and why is it "Off Air"?

I have been out of town for the last week on a speaking engagement and I just got home last night to find that the LoonCam was Off Air.

Apparently one of the storms that had gone through the area knocked out the power.  All the digital clocks in my house were flashing and the server which processes and sends the picture to you was off.

I know that you would like to be able to see the loons, especially the chicks.  I fully understand that.  But for whatever little consolation it is to you, last night they stayed in the area out of view of the camera to the left.  And this morning they are far enough away that you would not be able to see them, even with a zoom.

So I think this is the time to bring loon season to an end for 2017.  And give the neighbor's property back to them to use.

They have been so wonderful in support of the LoonCam and limiting their own activities to help our loons.

Now the second question that I am sure you want to know - HOW are our little loons doing?

I saw them just a few minutes ago and THEY ARE DOING FINE!

Tomorrow they will be two weeks old!

And my how they have grown!

Right now both parents are feeding them as they hungrily gobble down every minnow that the parents bring to them.

It is hard to tell what their exact size is from a distance with binoculars.  But I would guess that they are at least 6 to 8 inches long.  They are now mostly out of danger of being taken by a largemouth bass.  Although northerns, muskies and snapping turtles could still take them or at least do severe damage to them.

So that is good news.

But they are still very vulnerable to eagles.

The lake is always busy.  But the next two weeks are a little bit quieter than it will be around the 4th of July holiday.  So that is a good thing for our loons as they continue to grow and thrive.  By the 4th, they will probably be able to dive a little bit to get out of the way of trouble.

And the bigger they get, the safer they will be from predators.

So there is good news in LoonLand this morning!

 

Copyright 2017    Larry R Backlund

 

 

Thursday, June 8, 2017 11:15 pm CDT

63 degrees F   Partly Cloudy   Wind Calm

Sunrise  5:26 am CDT    Sunset  8:59 pm CDT

 

Today has once again been a beautiful day here.

Lots of sunshine.  Light winds.  Low humidity.  The days that Minnesota Winter Dreams are about.

And for our loons it has been a good day.  With a few challenges.

But the important thing is that our chicks today were still doing well and growing.  When i got home from a meeting I could not spot them anywhere but I have to assume that they are still ok.

Shortly after the loons and chicks made a swim by of the nest (which excited everyone watching), the loons were swimming close together, one chick on each parent's back.  They were perfectly reflected in the mirror surface of the lake.

It was one of those perfect images that is etched in the mind forever.

But just a couple hours later, things changed!

Wails and tremolos and yodels.

When I went to see what was going on, two loons were in a face off.  A tense face off.  The other loon of our pair was a distance away with the chicks.

But soon he left the chicks almost flying across the water toward the other two loons!

The intruder loon was back!  There were full penguin dances.  Calling.  Aggressive diving.  Circling each other.  Splashing.  More penguin dances.

As if that were not enough, at exactly the time of that confrontation, a mature bald eagle flew low right over the chicks.  He did not swoop down on them thankfully.  They were sitting ducks sitting there all alone.  Or should I say sitting loon chicks!

One of the loons seeing this headed for the chicks.  Half running.  Half flying!  Then the other loon realized what happened and did the same thing.

They landed where the chicks had been.  But where were the chicks now.

I looked and looked and could not see them!  There were now ripples or small waves on the lake and I tried desperately to pick out the chicks.

The two loons called and looked and peered under water and called and looked.  Then they started a number of excited dives.  I still could not see the chicks.  In all the excitement of an intruder loon AND an eagle, had another predator taken them.

The loons kept diving excitedly and surfacing and calling.

It seemed like this went on for an eternity.  But it was probably only a minute or two that they kept diving excitedly.

But I watched with increasing concern, unable to spot the chicks!

Had something taken them?  Had something pulled them under water in those few moments?  Were they just hidden by the little waves?  Was this real or a product of my concern or overactive imagination?

But then THERE was one chick.  The adults immediately went to it.  And then there was the second chick.

WHERE did they come from?

Obviously the adults were as concerned or more concerned than me.  So it could not have been that they were there all along.

I have no explanation of what just happened.

But I am happy that the chicks are well!

Late this afternoon, both loons and chicks were relaxing near the outer buoys.

Much further out there were two kayakers sitting obviously just watching the loons.  I look and kept working.  They were being very respectful and causing no concern to the loons.

But about 5 minutes later, I heard the loons calling.  I went to see what was upsetting them.

The two kayakers were outside the buoys to the right of the camera, but they were well inside the distance of the outer buoys.  They had 'forced' one of the loons with the two chicks way up near shore.

She was calling with great concern.

Whether they had actually paddled in or just floated in, they had come in way too close.  They were just sitting watching and enjoying the female loon calling and the little chicks.

But they were totally unaware that the male was right behind them doing repeated penguin dances.  VERY upset.  The female and chicks were trapped between the kayaks and the shore.  I don't think they even realized what stress they were causing for our loons.

I waved at them and motioned for them to move off to the side and leave.  If they understood, they took their sweet time doing it.

As they were turning their kayaks, the female took the opportunity to quickly swim with the chicks out to the male.

But unbelievably, just then a speed boat came by!

They slowed down to almost a stop when they saw the loons!

Now the loons were trapped between the kayaks and the speedboat.  Fortunately he left right away, but as the kayaks left, they paddled right AT the loons!

There are sometimes for my own mental health I just need to walk away.  But it is too hard to do.

I am an avid canoeist.

So I know that sometimes we think we are so much more 'environmentally friendly' than power boats (although I love them too!).  But we sometimes have a superiority complex even though we seldom admit it.

It was very disappointing to me when I learned by watching our loons that canoes and kayaks can be much more stressful to loons than most speedboats.

I think it is because we are much slower, we get closer and we are lower to the water than other boats.  And so loons see us as much more of a threat.

Did these kayakers mean to upset the loons.  I don't think so for a minute. 

I think it was just another case of sometimes we love our loons too much!

But other than those things, it was a 'real easy day' for our loons, I thought with tongue in cheek!

I need to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to my wonderful neighbors!

Without their interest and support and love of our loons, it would be impossible to do the LoonCam!  They limit their own activities to keep from upsetting the loons.  

All it would take is one neighbor who did not do that and the LoonCam could not be done.

THANK YOU!

 

Copyright 2017    Larry R Backlund