Monday, July 11, 2011

A Day with a Loon

It was July 4th weekend. Having failed to find any suitable wildlife on my previous trip north and since Travis was laid-off due to the State on Minnesota shutdown I wanted to drive around with him and see what we could find. You see, he's a wildlife magnet.

We first headed out to look for and shoot some lady slippers. It didn't take long for us to see a deer. Deer are generally not all that exciting to see, since they're rather abundant, but it was a good start. We found the lady slippers, past peak, and shot some pretty iris. Then Travis suggested we head up to a lake and look for some painted turtles that just might be sunning themselves on some half submerged rocks.

So off we went. We got to the lake and began our search for turtles however there were none to be found. As we were scanning for the turtles Travis turned to me and said there's a Loon nest. Now Travis had, just earlier in that same week, shot Loon eggs one day then Loon babies the next. His timing was perfect. How unlikely is it to see another Loon nest in the same week? Did I mention he's a wildlife magnet.

We quickly set up our cameras and quietly watched the Loon for the next hour or two. We did see the two eggs in the nest and hoping they would soon hatch decided to come back the next day. The following day, a Saturday, we arrived about 9:00am.

When we first arrived the Loon, having heard and seen us approaching, was lying very low in the nest, not moving a muscle, attracting no attention to herself. For some reason we thought this Loon was the female, she just had a motherly sense about her. We quietly got positioned, sat down on out chairs and waited.

It didn't take long for her to raise her head apparently realizing that we were not a threat. She kept an eye on us for a while but never lowered her head again.

The Loons picked a very nice and picturesque spot to build their nest. It was certainly very convenient for us allowing us to remain somewhat obscure under the canopy of trees.

It was not a particularly hot day I'd say in the low 80's but out in the sun it could get pretty warm especially for a black bird like a Loon. She spent most of the time on the nest panting. Every once in a while she would close her mouth like she was tasting something then go right back to panting. It was quite obviously quite warm for her.

Then all of a sudden she slipped off the nest and into the water. It was at this point that I felt comfortable that we were not bothering her or stressing her. She swan around, preened herself and hunted for food for about 5 minutes.

She slowly worked her way back to the nest and waited what seemed like a long time before crawling back on the eggs. These eggs were certainly not going to get to cold when she was gone. If anything her sitting on the eggs will keep them from getting too warm in the mid-day sun.

She settled in back on the nest for a few more hours.

A couple of times during the day she would cast her eye skyward. I didn't know what she was seeing exactly but she was sure curious about what was overhead. Predators to Loon chick before and after they hatch are snapping turtles, eagles, gulls, ravens and many others. Keeping an eye on the sky is a wise activity.

As the day rolled on we sat in the woods comforted by the shade and breeze that blew most of the day. I must admit a small feeling of guilt. Here we were nice and comfortable while the Loon was sitting out in the never ending sun panting to beat the band.

About every 2 1/2 hours she would go back in the water to swim, preen and catch a snack. On one dive I saw her come up with a minnow that she quickly devoured.

Each time she went back in the water she would lift out of the water to stretch her wings. It was always really fun to shoot this sequence and when she did it the sounds coming from our cameras sounded like quiet machine gun!!!!!!!...

All the while, well at least most of the time, we could see her mate out in the lake. He would get close and we thought they might trade places but then he's drift off to the other side. Most of the time we stayed far away from the nest and I figure he did that to keep any attention on him and away from his nesting partner.

We spent a total of 9 hours watching the Loon on her nest. I had never before sat and just simply watched nature for that amount of time. I had to be reminded that the sounds I was hearing were sounds of nature and not man made. I am so used to ignoring man made sounds that this was enlightening. Sitting thru the day with the Loon gives one an appreciation of what they go thru during the 28-31 day incubation period.

The Loons weren't the only wildlife we saw that day. Dragonflies were constantly buzzing around having their fill of insects. The painted turtles we'd hoped to see the day before made their appearance, climbing out of the water to find some warmth on a log. Around 5:00 in the evening the beaver came crusing by the dam they'd build presumable inspecting it for any repairs that needed work that night.

I told Travis this will be one of those days that gets etched into my memory.