- Views 2349
“Ecosystems are not only more complex than we think, but more complex than we can think.”
Each year nature’s processes are the same, though we never fully learn them. And each year, I let the same processes I see in nature, pass by without delving into them. So this coming spring/summer it will be different. I will comment on and photograph, at least minimally on all species’ prossesses that I have been aware of.
As you read this, please allow that I cannot be certain every detail is accurate at the time I enter it. However, I am certain every detail is accurate to the extent of my knowledge at that time. Sometimes, as I continue to develop this document, I find that I occasionally am forced to change my interpretation of what I had observed, because I learned something new that I now know to be fact.
When I delve into an ecosystem, I am immediately overwhelmed by choices and then questions; i.e. Why is this? Which path do I choose? Regardless of which path I choose, I know I will learn some things that nobody has learned before or were not documented and eventually lost through the generations.
I have been inquiring into nature my entire life, and am more fascinated by it than when I started.
Here is an image of me as a toddler at the family’s very first “camp”, which was actually an old homestead in Kingfield, Maine.
Later, our Grandparents would buy a hand-hewn log cabin in Salem, Maine. Wouldn’t you say that tiny guy in front of this circa 1950 photograph is about 2 years of age? Here, I was looking at the ground and very likely wondering what was down there. If I know my Father’s Father, he probably knew the legacy he was starting when we took to the woods way back then. Nothing in my life has even come close to the fascination of nature and I am thankful to God for every hour I get to spend in it.
I started this writing as a loon journal, because there is a pair of loons at this pond of my boyhood and they abandoned their nest last year (2015) because people passing the loon nest with the watercrafts, repeatedly got too close to the nesting loons with their cell phones.
But the writing began turning into a journal of all the nature at this pond of my boyhood.
So here are the beginnings of what will be an ongoing interpretation of the observations I am making at the pond where I spent so much of my boyhood. This is my most interesting research project of my life. It is solely mine. It is not going to be submitted to a refereed journal. I love that! I call the shots on this one.
SPRING TO SUMMER: This year, I again learned something new about this pond. But I again let that celebration pass by without capturing even one image of it. I am referring to the reproductive cycles of ALL the species here. It could be all the bird species or all the fish species, or all the mollusks and on and on.
But in this paragraph I am referring specifially to the ones I missed again….. that group of carnivores in the Order Odonata….the Odonatans,….the dragon flies, ringtails, damseflies and more ! For a couple of weeks, I watched thousands of them in their nymph stage, hanging onto the plant stems on which they had crawled up from underwater during the night. About a week later I began seeing their adult bodies clinging to the same stems as they had emerged and were drying in preparation for their short life. And always….as I quietly electric-motored along the slough between the pond of my boyhood and the lake basin, I am very, very careful to not mow down one single Odanatan that was drying its wings and preparing to live its very short life.
These insects that are emerging into the adventure of life are 100% at my mercy. I must miss them. For if I mow them down with what is to them a giant barge, they have no chance of recovering, not a single chance of survival. This is because those wings, freshly emerging from the nymph stage, are super soft and must be “inflated” by blood pressure and then dried. If you look at the images I have here of these animals (yes, insects belong to the Kingdom Animalia) you will see tiny tubes The tinient wrinkle in one of their four wings after they have dried, and the animal will have no chance to live its already short life.
Every living animal has the same height of desire to live as any human does….just as you and I do. Oh yes it does! This in inarguable. If they realize the existence of their life…… then they are enjoying that life just as much as you and I are. And therein lies the root of my compassion for the beings that share this biosphere with me. Now, I do suppose that they are unlikely to realize that their life is very short. But again, they enjoy life just as much as you and I do.
And as always, as I passed by these emerging Odonatans during these few weeks, I made the same mistake I make every year. Yet again, I somehow expected them to be there whenever I got around to recording their life cycle. Natural processes wait for nothing. I waited too long yet another year. Now, if I live, I hope to get another chance to record that life cycle next year….in 2017. I promise myself I will not take next year for granted.
So as you look at the images I have recorded at this pond, be aware that in nature, I miss most of what is happening. We all do. I have hardly begun to cover the microfauna……the dragonflies, the whirligigs, the water striders, the mullosks and on and on. Here are a few I captured a year ago in 2015.
PLEASE NOTE: As you navigate this document, you can click on any image to see it rendered perhaps to the size of your screen. And with most images (not all) you can click again to enlarge them even more. Check out the incredible detail on these dragon flies by just clicking them twice! And go ahead….feel free to use your camera at home, to take pictures of these pictures and use them for yourself. In the future, I may not want to let them go for nothing. But for now, I want that to happen.
Twice-click the second image above to see the incredible intricacies of this creature that is just emerging to enjoy its very short life. The other two images do not have quite the details of the middle one. That is because they were taken with cameras with sensors of different capabilities.
that is an adult female Dobson fly I have on the finger tip. This is the adult of the famed smallmouth bass bait….the hellgrammite
GLACIATION: This pond is just one of perhaps hundreds of thousands of freshwater bodies in the Biosphere’s Northern Hemisphere. They were all born from glaciation, when those miles-deep ice leviathans, came roaring through, millennia to eons ago, gouging troughs into the earth as they receded southward, grossly changing the earthscape, lifting and moving granites of all sizes, depositing boulders like grains of sand. Water is incompressible; when water freezes, absolutely nothing can stop it from expanding. So when water flows into cracks on granite bedrock and then freezes, it splits this second-hardest of all rocks on the Planet Earth (basalt is the hardest). These granite boulders, comprised of the same material as the region’s bedrock, were deposited from the glacial mass at least millennia ago, and have been seated in the same spot ever since.
Here is one of those facts you really don’t need to know but is fascinating anyway: A boulder that was shed, like a grain of sand, by a passing glacier a mere 10,000 years ago, has been sitting in virtually the same spot for 3.65 million days!
It was temperature-increase that allowed these icy leviathans to break away from the northern ice cap. And as the ever-so-slowly rising temps reached and passed through 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the giant troughs the glaciers left behind, filled with the absolutely crystal clear water formed when the solid ice turned to liquid. At that time, it was virtually void of any living material. This was the birth of the watersheds that are ubiquitous across at least the northern hemisphere.
I first came to this pond as a young man in the 1960′s. I had discovered fishing several years earlier, when my cousin Leo Campbell, twenty years my senior, showed me what happened when strips of bacon-fat where put on a fishing hook, hung off a bobber and dropped off the end a dock. The dock was in that local pond that was at the very bottom of all local fishermen’s quality list. But at the time, I did not know that. So just the sight of those Bluegills, going crazy for that bacon-fat was enough to hook me on fishing. But I was not able to get even near a body of freshwater with fish in it for several years later.
As the human population grows, an increasingly greater proportion of the masses are exposed to nothing but manmade entities. Increasingly, the naturalist population is becoming diluted. That is scary. And I feel pity for the poor children who never get a chance to see nature. And today, there are large populations of children who’s entire environments are being destroyed by man’s selfish wars, with all their destruction.
And so, I am very thankful that I invested enough time exposing my daughter, Carie, to nature, starting in her earliest years. Today, she loves nature and frequently hikes into nature near her current Coloradan home. Then she sends me short videos of what she sees and we discuss these things.
Several weeks ago I watched a program that was out of the norm for me. Now I am having trouble recalling what it was. Maybe the content had to do with science fiction related to nature. But I seem to now doubt that. You see, I never watch syfy because nature alone is endlessly fascinating. It is a waste of one’s limited time here on Earth to be spending that limited time watching the perverted garbage that is syfy. Really, it bores me. But I still seem to recall this show had something to do with a perversion of nature. The only thing I recall for certain is that the advertisements were very shocking to me. And that is because advertisements are custom designed or matched to specific viewer-types. On this particular program, the advertisements played hard music and showed a youth that was violent.
So if this is what the advertisers showed, then I could only assume that it was normal for the youth who habitually watched this programming…..to be angry.
One scene even showed a young man giving the finger to the video camera. There was much screaming. I remember that when I considered the program’s artificial content, it occurred to me that this was very likely the reason for their anger. What I am trying to say here is that the program I was watching and the channel it was on, aired nothing but artificial; i.e. unnatural material. I wish I could recall what it was so I could test my theory again. I could only draw the conclusion that a symptom to being forced to live in this increasingly artificial world is anger. And I believe the same symptom or response occurs when people are packed in too tightly.
Back to the pond of my boyhood.
BULLFROGS and GREAT BLUE HERONS
I captured this image last year. It is now May 14, 2016, and the bullfrogs have not begun to show on the same pond. Later: Now it is May 20 and they still have not shown. They will begin calling within 1 week I think. That is when I will locate the first one of 2016.
Just checked last year’s dates. This one was captured June 16, 2016. But the first bullfrog I photographed last year was on May 29, 2016. The aquatic vegetation is just beginning to emerge (May 14, 2016) and last winter was a exceptionally mild one, both in terms of snowfall and low temps. Most winters here on coastal Maine are much more severe than last year’s. Of course, there might be no correlation between the two. But “ice-out” in southern Maine was very early this spring (late March). It usually occurs no earlier than mid-April and most often very late April.
the AMERICAN BULLFROG’S PRECARIOUS EXISTENCE: The following is a short explanation for why the American Bullfrog really does live a precarious existence.
I have been watching these frogs my entire life and have arrived at a conslusion I think: The spring-emergence of bullfrogs is quite closely synchronized with the emergence of aquatic plants. And the reason for this is that the frog must have the vegetation for escape cover.
Here is why:
In the Food Web, American Bullfrogs are predators of anything they can swallow. This usually means insects but I am sure they do very occasionally capture minnows that pass by them in the extreme shallow waters. And the American Bullfrog is prey to the Great Blue Heron (GBH), both NA Bass species (Mycropterus spp.) and less occasionally the Snapping Turtle. But overwhelmingly, its greatest danger is the GBH. A bullfrog in the open is easy prey for the ever-present GBH.
The GBH begins hunting at first good light and probably continues hunting all day, or until its hunger is satiated. On this pond, there are 2-3 great blue herons that hunt every day.
At best, the American Bull Frog (and probably most frogs) has a poor escape mechanism.
Even within the cover of aquatic vegetation, I have always found that any frog is easy to spot and catch-by-hand after it has just submerged. This is for two reasons. The bullfrog lives in very shallow water, immediately adjacent to the shoreline and within those emergent aquatic plants. I have never known a bullfrog to attempt an escape onto the shoreline. And to try an escape out toward the pond, and away from the cover of that vegetation, is certian death. Bass are constantly patrolling the edges of the weeds. During deep crepuscular periods, and into darkness, they even penetrate into the very shallow weeds in search of prey.
When escaping perceived danger, bullfrogs go directly to the bottom, not moving too far laterally. On the bottom, they shut their eyes and simply do not move . With their eyes closed and feeling secure as they rely on surrounding vegetation, they are oblivious to anything around them.. and even here, they are very vulnerable.
This is the same escape mechanism the American Alligator uses in the Everglades. Both animals feel completely secure within their escape cover. And as with the gator in shallow Everglades waters, once submerged, and with its eyes shut, the bullfrog has no idea if it is being watched from above.
So, if a GBH’s spots the bullfrog as it is submerging, the frog has no chance for survival, virtually zero. In addition to all the other factors, this is because the GBH now knows there is a Bullfrog laying on the bottom, just below the surface. We should also remember that birds have color vision and it is probably better than mine . So the GBH is able to discriminate the frog from surrounding vegetation.
Arguably, the GBH is the most effective hunter of all aquatic macrofauna. Its long toes keep it buoyant on the soft and deep detritus that is most often present within habitat the GBH hunts.
The GBH’s long legs and long body and neck, give their eyes a very lofty perspective of any fauna activity occurring in the shallows. And the GBH will spend most of its hunting-time standing absolutely still, with no head movement as it intensely scrutinizes the shallow vegetation for any movements.
To any aquatic fauna that is looking upward, the GBH’s plumage is cryptically colored against similarly colored foliage along the water’s edge. And this is because of a phenomenon called positive phototropism: Plants along the edge of any habitat transition, grow away from other competing plants, as they seek sunlight. So the trees and bushes along the edge of any aquatic system ALWAYS grow out toward the open water, bending out and overhanging the edge of the water. And since the GBH is hunting the edges, it is most often under the trees’ overhanging branches. This is the reason for the colors of GBH’s plumage.
Add to all of this that the shallow edges of a body of water are the most productive. The dense, deep organic material supports the entire base of the aquatic food web. This littoral zone also serves as the most productive nursery area of the entire freshwater basin. The GBH hunts this habitat because this is where the highest diversity of species and biomass of prey are found. In short, bullfrogs are never found in sandy, sparsely vegetated habitat.
The GBH will kill and eat ANY living animal that it is capable of subduing and even finds that some creatures it attacks, it cannot swallow. Among wading birds, the Great Blue Heron is the most assailing. There’s an abundance of documentations of the GBH attacking and trying to swallow mammals that are just too large to swallow; i.e. squirrels, rabbits, muskrats…to name a few. I once knew a GBH that made its living in upland fields by spearing/swallowing Boreal Red-backed Voles.
Bullfrogs are solitary and territorial, each laying claim to a specific piece of shallow water, along the shoreline. And the shallows, along the pond edge, are the hunting grounds the GBH favors….overwhelmingly. Just a few GBH’s have the potential to kill and eat ALL the American bullfrogs along a pond’s edges.
In fact, I think that this is just what happens at this pond of my boyhood. It does not take more than several weeks after I hear the initial bellowings of the emerging bullfrogs, that their sound is rare.
Big bass cruise just outside the edge of the emergent , aquatic vegetation and they even push into and through that vegetation, toward the shore. The frogs have no chance out here. So the frogs must stay very tight to the shore and take their chances with the GBH.
I am virtually certain the bullfrog in this picture later fell prey to one of the GBH’s that frequent this pond edge.
Update July 12: In all the outings you see listed here, I have heard scant few bellowing Bullfrogs. I am certain that the one or two Great Blue Herons that hunt these shorelines have all but wiped out the Bullfrogs.
Update September 20: Over the last 3 months I may have heard one, maybe two bullfrogs. Toward the end of the summer I heard none….zero. I am certain that the GBH’s have wiped out enough of the bullfrogs that the ones that are left are shutting up. They learn all right.
In shallow freshwater habitats (littoral zone), where there is much emergent aquatic vegetation that conceals the prey species or at least gives it the secure feeling that it is concealed, there is no more successful predator than the Great Blue Heron…….by far! In these shallow, heavily vegetated waters, everything is in favor of the GBH.
My first day at this wonderland I call the pond of my boyhood: So I put out my thumb and hitchhiked to the nearest body of water that promised fishing. It was exactly 5 miles NW of my home. And I am sure I lied to my Mother, assuring her that I was walking to a place closer than this. It was a rainy day in May. I went alone, later convincing my cousins and then my brother to join me on future excursions. When I arrived on this first day, I clearly remember seeing a cow moose with her calf, standing in that rain in the corner of the old field, watching me turning over rocks to look for worms to put on my bobber so that I could catch a fish. You would think there would be lots of worms under those rocks. But you would be as wrong as I was. It was very difficult finding any bait.
The Yellow Perch And the last thing I remember of that first rainy day is seeing a Yellow Perch go crazy for the worm I had dangling below my bobber. I had found the spot! The thrill of what this fishing spot developed into for me….is impossible to put into words. The smells of it, the huge largemouth bass I would eventually learn to catch. The unique smell of a largemouth bass. The green eyes that look back at you as you hold it, smell it and admire it. At the time, I did not know that Yellow Perch were considered very undesirable. Yes, virtually all freshwater fishermen in this region consider it to be trash fish. One of my cousins even sadistically used to cut the fins from them and toss them back into the pond. I always have asked myself….”What is the matter with people, especially men, to bring them to even feel the desire to torture another living being?” It is so tragically sad to watch this happen. That perch is a native species, an integral component of an aquatic system that took eons to develop there. That Yellow Perch belongs there more than any human being that ever came after it.
Ironically, it is that icon of northern waters, the Common Loon or the “Great Northern Diver”, that is so fond of the Yellow Perch as its sustenance fish, that some loon researchers suggest that it favors the Yellow Perch above all other fish species. I would later find out that this might not be the case, as I observed a pair of parent loons bring what seemed to be all species of fish to their growing chick….and clearly many small largemouth bass.
When you consider that man is the only species in the Biosphere that is prey to no other species, but kills whatever it chooses, it dawns on you that man is being incredibly audacious to even consider himself worthy to decide what is and is not “good” for any ecosystem.
TOSSING A FISH OUT DOES NOTHING BUT SUFFOCATE THE FISH!: This is just a side note that I believe is relevant. What in hell do fishermen in Florida think they are accomplishing, when they remove from their hook, what they consider to be an undesireable fish, and throw it behind them, onto the concrete structure they are fishing from? This act has absolute ZERO effect on changing the population dynamics of the species in those waters. Further, that fish has the same nervous system that exists in all the higher animals. It experiences as much pain and discomfort that any of us would while we suffocated. A fish trying to breathe out of water is the same as a lung breather trying to breathe underwater. It drowns. Only the fish’s death struggle is much more horrible because it takes much longer to die. To drown is to suffocate. It is a horrible way to go. The pitiful creature convulses for air as the heart muscle screams for oxygen and then finally goes into cardiac arrest.
THE STATE OF FLORIDA MUST BE LOBBIED TO POST SIGNS IN PUBLIC FISHING AREAS, MAKING IT UNLAWFUL TO CRUELLY LEAVE ANY FISH OUT OF WATER TO NEEDLESSLY DIE AND BE WASTED. THIS ACT IS BARBARIC, CRUEL AND SERVES NO ECOLOGICALLY SOUND PURPOSE WHATSOEVER.
the Common Loon … “Great Northern Diver”
Among the well-documented animals that are still locally common within their range, the Common Loon also remains one of the more mysterious. One reason is that Common Loons are not sexually dimorphic; i.e. the female and male are identical, except for size. And to distinguish one from the other, one has to have them close to each other. Add to this….loons have at least a few very unusual social tendencies that are made difficult to understand because of this lack of sexual dimorphism:
When another adult loon comes to “visit” the mated pair, it quickly becomes impossible for the observer (me!) to determine which two are the mated pair and which is the “intruder”. So we are still uncertain of all the social details of adult loons. Who is this visitor that sometimes appears near the mated pair? Is it a “prospector”, as some researchers have aptly named it, or is it one of the mated pair’s offspring from past years. I feel certain the latter is the case in at least one of the encounters I document here.
The Common Loon cannot walk; I have concluded that it has trouble de-weighting its body for longer than ½ second. But among all bird species on the planet that swim…..it has few equals. Did you know that the Common Loon can dive to depths of 200 feet?
COMMON LOONS AND COOPERS HAWKS: And with those long legs equipped with huge webbed feet, located far behind the body, loons are able to make extremely sharp turns when pursuing their fish prey. Apparently loons are able to flap their webbed feet backwards to propel themselves forward when paddling on the surface. When in dives, they also get propulsion by sweeping their huge webbed feet LATERALLY. These two physical features, of having the feet so far behind the body and the ability to swing them laterally, allow the Common Loon to make very sharp turns. I will give an example here. Look at the shape of an accipiter hawk’s tail section. North American accipiters include the Sharp-shinned, Coopers and Goshawk. Accipiters are sometimes called darters. They are particularly skilled at maneuvering through tight woodlands, where other fast flying birds run a very higher risk of colliding with a tree. Not the accipiter. This is largely because of the length of its tail section, which, on a bird, is its rudder. It moves its tail section to the left and right in order to change direction. All birds do. But the accipiter’s tail section is very, very long and this length has a much quicker effect on causing change in direction. The accipiters long, narrow tail seciton is analogous to the Common Loon’s huge webbed feet that are set way back on the bird and that move LATERALLY. Just as the accipiter can suddenly change directions to avoid trees, the loon can make extraordinarly sharp, sudden turns when fishing underwater.
It is widely accepted that loons use their vision to locate prey. I totally agree and have yet seen nothing to spike my curiosity toward another sense being used to hunt prey. Throughout the days, loons on the pond/lake surface are ever-pushing their faces down into the water surface, peering underwater, just as you or I would if using a diving mask. They are constantly looking down from the surface for their next fish meal, unless they are busy feeding the baby. Like many animals groups, including all birds, reptiles and amphibians, loons have a nictitating membrane located in the anterior of their eye opening. It gives their eyes protections when needed and I believe it is what allows the bird to see just as clearly below water as it does above. I have not yet found research that proves this.
SO WHY ARE LOON’S EYES RED? At least one Researcher suggests that the red eyes may be used to attract a mate.
Her name is Judy McIntyre and I believe she spent her entire professional career studying loons. When I first read her postulation I quesiton it, as I do all wildlife researcher observations. But after this first season of my own loon research I believe her observation makes perfect sense.
Now I will go out on a limb here: Does the reason for red eyes go much deeper than this? Is it twofold? I know this is a stretch. But is it possible that the loons’ red eyes allow them to “convert” the blueish tint they would see at greater depths into more visual light, allowing them to see the prey easier? Could it at least have something to do with the ability to see their fish prey in deeper waters? I do not know. At this time, I can only suspect so. I would have no way of researching into this myself and have not found anything in my occasional literature searches. The Common Loon can dive to depths of up to 200 feet and make it back alive! That is astounding! If you have ever been scuba diving, you soon see that the light down there begins to turn everything blue. d Light waves can only penetrate water so deep. As the water depth increases, both the quantity of light decreases and the quality changes. The red light wavelength is the first to go, beginning to be blocked in shallow waters.
Blue light is able to penetrate water the deepest of the wavelengths.
Crystal clear waters? Across the board, Loon Researchers agree that the Common Loon (at least this one species and maybe all four species of loon) must have crystal clear waters to hunt their fish. This is not true, although it does make sense, because the Common Loon does depend on its eyes to see and catch its prey. I do not have a Secchi Disk, so to be able to give a reading here, but the “Pond of My Boyhood” is considerably less than crystal clear.
Researchers widely believe that the male selects the nest site. I cannot disagree with this but I do know that she does a lot of the initial selecting. I should say that the female did ALL of the initial selecting in the two nesting seasons I observed these loons pairs here. On my BP, as they travel together, she is the one that is most often stopping and mingling at a few different sites while he stops and waits. Often picking up rotting aquatic vegetation, along with the roots sometimes, she moves it slightly landward to begin the process of nest building. But I cannot disagree that he is the one that makes the final nest site decision.
WING SPREADING: Throughout each day, Common Loons often raise up their body, spread their wings and begin flapping. It is widely believed that this is a territorial display by the male. I would agree with this. But there is an obvious second reason for this: If loons did not exercise their wings during their nesting, their ability to fly from the freshwater nesting site in the fall, before “ice-in”, would be greatly compromised. Once they arrive at their nesting pond/lake, they stay on the water most of the spring/summer and into the fall, only rarely taking to wing. Loons do not use the wings for un:derwater propulsion, using the oddly large webbed feet for this.
SPECIES EXHIBIT VARYING TOLERANCES OF HUMANS: Some species are inherently tolerant of being in close proximity to humans. Maybe it is because they are precocious.
A few North American examples would be the Canada (Gray) Jay or Moosebird, the Gray Catbird and the Black-capped Chickadee. I would characterize all three of these species as being precocious. Some people like to use the word curious, and that would be acceptable too.
I can photograph any Gray Catbird at my feeder, and it will tolerate almost anything but a loud noise, while all Northern Cardinals at my feeder are exceptionally skittish, not tolerating the slightest indication that I am watching.
Some species seem to be inherently intolerant of humans. An example is the Great Blue Heron. I like to call the Great Blue Heron the Scrooge of the wading bird world. This is one unsociable, grumpy bird. But, give a GBH a fish handout and it has an entire attitude change. There are GBH’s that make a living in Florida panhandling off fishermen and fish markets.
The Common Loon (Gavia immer) is one of those species of animals that is inherently tolerant of people, unless that means a lot of confusion, much noise or potential violence….if it senses it. Some folks even suggest that loons will leave their chick(s) in close proximity to human(s) if the adult has temporary business elsewhere on the pond or lake. I can tell you that I am certain that this is true. That’s right. The adult loons I have seen have learned to trust humans in very close proximity to their young, even to the extent that they will leave their baby right next to a human and go a considerable distance away for varying lengths of time. The young does not feel that same sense of trust toward the human it is left with. Another example is from the day the 2016 chick hatched. I suddenly arrived on the slough, causing the adults to become agitated because they felt hemmed in and could not dive because they had their newborn. Yet, during this time, they had their backs turned to the two young men who lived in the house overlooking the 2016 nest. The two young men were on the wharf, within feet of the loons with their chick, and yet the loons had their backs to the them. They trusted them completely. And they normally trusted me, but on this day I arrived suddenly and they felt cornered. I simply poled the canoe off the channel, allowing them to proceed up to the lake to announce the arrival of their new chick. Once I moved off to the side, into the emergents, the two parents felt completely at ease and passed by closely to me.
BTW, there seems to be confusion regarding what birds actually are. Birds belong to the Kingdom Animalia, just as insects and fish do. Birds are animals.
All wildlife will become conditioned to tolerating people in close proximity if they receive positive reinforcement from repeated encounters over a long enough period of time.
Even the Brown Bears at McNeil River Falls tolerate people in close proximity to them, because the bears are obligated to feed there and the people maintain a buffer distance. The bears tolerate it.
In my Maine home, up until about 20 years ago, the Common Loon did not trust people. They had reason not to. Before my time, Arthur Cleveland Bent leaves us his documentation that duck hunters used loons as target practice. And back when I was a boy, loons never, ever came anywhere near any humans, keeping a long distance between themselves and all people, I assume because people shot at them, overran them with their power boats and just had no respect for loons at all. It pissed off those of us who loved them. My late father set a great example, always calling out people when they came too close with the skiing boat at the family camp, on a small pond in southern Maine. Just in the last few years, my brother, seeing the water-skiing boat from the Boys Camp come too close to a loon, got into his car, drove all the way around the lake and found the camp manager and told him of the incident.
Most believed the Common Loon was forever extirpated from southern New England. Written over 140 years ago, the following passage was taken from Life Histories of North American Diving Birds (Dover Press).
The breeding range of this species is becoming more and more restricted as the country becomes cleared and settled; the loons are being gradually killed off or driven away. A pair of loons nested at Quittacus Pond, Lakeville, Massachusetts, about 14 miles from my home, in 1872, but the eggs were taken and both birds were shot; none have nested in this section of the State since. The same story is true of many another New England lake where the insatiable desire to kill has forever extirpated an exceedingly interesting bird…… Arthur Cleveland Bent
But in the last 30 years, the Common Loon has been becoming increasingly popular. Just his year (2017), wildlife agencies are planning on embarking on a program of transplanting Common Loons from Maine, back to Massachusetts. This is very encouraging and something that most believed would never happen. There is a long learning curve to our relationships with the species we share the Biosphere with. And there can be no argument that we are the ones who should be doing the learning.
There are many reasons outdoor people who live within the range of the Common Loon have become endeared to this species. And it has been a long process. Just listen to a selection of this bird’s vocals. They evoke awe in all of us. And each vocalizaton has been identified as having a specific purpose. So far, my experiences with my loons are showing me that previous researchers have been accurate in identifying the purpose for each of the Common Loon’s vocalizations. More on this later.
COMMON LOONS BECAME NOTICEABLY LESS COMMON………And then there came a time when it became obvious that the Common Loon was becoming less common. Common loons use lakes and ponds for reproduction. This is a shy species that will simply leave an area if it is under too much pressure. And if that happens in the ponds and lakes, reproduction will go down. But other than for that noise and confusion, the Common loon is happy to actually mingle right among the quiet watercrafters, at very close distance. This is the literal truth. And it is wonderful to see this. I love it. So back in the those years when the loon was not getting the respect it deserved, Maine Department of Inland fisheries and Wildlife began a public information campaign designed to educate people to the loon and to advise people on laws and what they should not do around loons. For several years, loon posters were seen at every lake and pond in Maine. The word was out; i.e. either we begin to show love and respect for this eery sounding, shy, elusive bird….or we would lose it altogether. It was a very successful campaign.
Today, Mainers have become endeared to the Common Loon. It is a wonderful thing that literally brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. I really, really love this. The success of MDIFW’s loon campaign is shown in the complete turn around of the Common loon’s tolerance for people in close proximity to it. It is a wonderful thing. I love it.
NO CELL PHONE PHOTOGRAPHERS AT LOON NESTS! But now the cell phone wildlife photographer is emerging as a threat to Common Loon reproduction. Loons do not mind so much if we approach them before they nest and when they have completed nesting. The loon chick is precocial; i.e. it is off the nest, onto the parent’s back and on its maiden voyage the same day it hatches….and probably within the first hour.
But we cannot closely approach a loon that is sitting on its nest without risking nest abandonment. It is connected to that nest with parental instinct, unable to leave….EXCEPT WHEN IT IS PUSHED TO THE THRESHOLD OF SELF-PRESERVATION. And that is exactly what cell phone photographers do when they closely approach a sitting loon. It is terrifying to the loon. Why do you think that the loons nest at the very edge of water?
I believe the 2016 nesting site-choice was the most significant factor that allowed this pair to nest successfully in 2016. It is because the nest was located downhill from and in site of.…..the year-round camp on the hill. Anyone in the camp has a “ringside seat” of whatever might happen at the 2016 nest site. They could actually look down into the nest site from a distance of about 100 yards.
Undoubtedly, people are aware that the cowering loon is scared of them and does not want them to approach the nest. In fact, done enough, the loons will abandon the nest. So, with the 2016 nesting site, anyone paddling the slough and spotting the loon on the nest, knows it is very likely that there are people watching them from behind on the hill. So that they are much less apt to yield to the temptation of approaching the nest with their cell phone. And abandonment is what happened in 2015. The 2015 nest site was within view of the the carryon ramp, but it was about 200 yards away from the ramp. In 2015, while I was standing at the point where the carry-on ramp touches the water, I saw one person in a watercraft, stop in the slough opposite the 2015 nest, turn and look back toward the carry-on ramp. Of course, if I could see this person, then this person could see me watching him/her. In this case, the person opted not to approach the nest. Yes, the 2015 nest location is also in view of the year-round camp on the hill, but it is about 300 yards distance from the camp. And I think that anyone contemplating a close, “cell-phone-approach” to that 2015 nest, would get the secure feeling that people in the camp on the hill could not see what they were up to. This is because at 300 yards distance, and with the depth of the above-water section of the emergent, aquatic vegetation, the nest was deep enough within the vegetation, to be concealed from long distance viewing. I know that in 2015, when I left the ramp and electric motored toward the nest, that I would have to get well shy of 100 yards distance before I could see the sitting loon.
THE FOLLOWING SECTION IS ALSO ABOUT CELL PHONES. I CUT AND PASTED IT HERE, AFTER I WROTE THE ABOVE SECTION. SO YOU WILL HAVE TO BLEND THE TWO TOGETHER:
But just as last year (spring/summer 2015), they will eventually abandon the nest because they will not hold up to the stress from cell phone photographers too closely approaching them as they sit on the nest. It is because people with cell phones do not have enough self-control to remain a distance from the nest that will not stress the the bird as it incubates the eggs. I have watched and listened to these people. We must use the same boat ramp and so we cross paths. They know I photograph wildlife. They have even left notes on my windshield, asking me if I would like a picture of the loon on the nest. If you must get close enough to get a frame-filling image of the loon on the nest, you are putting the bird through extreme stress. It takes no more than common sense to see that the sitting loon is very stressed; the loon hangs its head down low, apparently attempting to be as inconspicuous as possible, while refusing to leave the eggs. In the end, the birds do leave the eggs. Although these cell phone nature photographers know they are stressing the sitting loon, they do it anyway. I am fed up with it. Once I discovered in the summer of 2015 that they were approaching the nest too closely, I built and posted a sign, asking them “Please, Do Not Approach the Loon Nest”. I thought the chick(s) would make it but found the nest abandoned in the second week of July. No, the chick(s) did not hatch. I encountered the loon pair a few times soon after the nest was abandoned and there was on chick with them. The should be a law created to keep people a minimum of about 30 feet distance from any active nest of a Common Loon. That is all that is needed. They do not like to be even detected as they sit on the nest, but they do not become terribly stressed unless a person begins to approach them on the nest. They indicate the stress by lowering the head down to the water.
NICTITATING MEMBRANE….AND DO LOONS NEED VERY CLEAR WATERS TO FISH IN? As the loons float on the top, they spend much time stopping to peer underwater, just as you or do when we snorkel with a mask. Loons have the same nictitating membrane that all birds, reptiles and amphibians have. It is a retractible, transparent “curtain” that is folded just beyond the anterior edge of the eye. When needed for extra protection, the nictitating membrane moves out from under that anterior edge that covers the entire eye. Generally speaking, species deploy the nictitating membrane when involved in any activity where the eyes have a greater possibility of being injured. But surely this membrane also allows waterbirds and amphibians to see clearly underwater. After all, when we dive without a mask, everything becomes a blur. Regarding this, I have not yet found anything in the literature.
When loons float atop the water surface and put their heads underwater, I can only surmise that they are looking for fish. So far as we know, loons rely totally on visual contact to locate their prey. At least one of the most prominent internet bird references states that the loon must have crystal clear waters. I know this is not necessarily the case, because here at the pond of my boyhood, the waters are far from crystal clear. I do not have Secchi Disk readings for you but can assure you that this pond is not considered to be a clear one for this region. So no….loons do not need exceptionally clear water to make a living. But if the water is that much clearer, surely it is easier to see their prey.
When one of them does see a larger fish, both swing into fast action, going from a casual pace to high speeds and then stopping and quickly searching. They sprint, stop, search and sprint again, until they usually come up empty. As with most predators, they most often miss their prey. But when fishing for the chick, the prey items are almost always smaller and they seem to catch fish at will.
Another facet of their fishing dawned on my one night: Of the many hundreds of small fish I have seen these parents bring to their chick……not a single fish was struggling…..not one! And I noted that all of the fish were clasped by the loon’s bill just behind the gill covers (operculums). That is precisely where the heart is. I believe the loon is clasping the fish so tightly that it crushes the fish’s heart.
It is important to mention that inland waters do not nearly hold the biomass of prey species as coastal waters. Estuarine systems are the richest in the Biosphere. Per square area, there is much more biomass produced in estuarine systems than any other ecotype on the planet.
the Common Loon is PRECOCIAL…..We use the word precocial for young that are born ready to go. And we use the word altricial for young that need a lot of post-birth development. In less than a day, the loon chick is out of the nest and onto its parent’s back for its maiden voyage. What a life! A Common Loon is born at water’s edge and given a grand tour of its super exciting aquatic realm very soon after birth…. sometimes within an hour !
The pair paddle around the lake, she in the lead most of the time. She is looking for a place to build her nest.
The main lake is connected to the pond, whose tail-waters constitute the outlet (at a dam). Connecting the lake and pond is an old, meandering flowage.
Measuring daily time from a biological perspective: The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. As we observe its relationship to the Earth, it is moving incrementally.
How do I communicate to you the time at which I arrive at the ramp and enter the water each day?
It is not appropriate for me to use man’s standard time system. Man’s system is artificial, based on arbitrary zones, a set of rules that can vary according to regions of the globe. Another way of communicating the problem is to remind you that the amount of Sunlight at 7 a.m. in early May is hugely different than the amount of Sunlight at 7 a.m. in early July. By July the sun is much higher in the sky. So I decided to communicate this to you with a simple method at least sometimes used by native people. As the Sun apparently approaches or leaves the horizon, I can communicate this relative time by using my outstretched hand. If I place my outstretched hand against the horizon, each finger width roughly represents 1/4 hour. So each day I can tell, and even show you (via an image taken each day) the time I arrive at the ramp. Here is an example.
Friday, May 20, 2016: I encountered them about ½ of the distance down the flowage (slough) and making their way toward the pond and dam. They showed no surprise to see me, but I believe that is because they detect distant noise much sooner than any of us do. By the time I got there, they were expecting me. I electric-powered my canoe to the side of the flowage, so to let them pass by. As always, once they passed by me, and slowly continued toward the pond and dam, I began to very slowly follow them, but not without first letting them get a good 200 foot lead on me. I did not let them out of my sight. By now it was very clear to me that they were headed for the pond. I was psyched now. I had not seen them head for the pond before now, and I believed that they did not travel the entire length of the flowage to the pond and dam. Once I felt that there was a good chance that they were actually headed all the way to the pond, when they moved laterally, very close to the shoreline, I took the opportunity to get in front of them. I did this by slowly overtaking them, while at the same time moving as far laterally to the other shore as I could, while never looking directly at them. I think all would agree that when you are looking at another being, that individual might perceive you as delving into their brain. Even if you do not agree with this, let us agree, that the eyes are actually an extension of the brain. There is no argument. The eyes are actually the brain’s photoreceptors. Throughout this mingling with the loons, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that they were simply enjoying life. I had to return to the increasingly complex, stress of capitalism while they were simply enjoying the simple pleasures of their lives in the outdoors.
May 21, 2016: Today I mingled with the loon pair for several hours. I not once approached them closer than 50 feet. But they approached me numerous times! It was exciting. I even watched them pass directly under my canoe and I was able to get a few images, albeit with much cloud reflections. Nobody can understand what these loons are thinking. She was running the show. Looking for nesting site. In a sense, he escorted her to the pond. At a pinch point, what we boys used to call the second point….he stopped. This was the pond of my boyhood. This was the place that I spent so much of my teens years, over a half century ago. Here is where I caught scores of Largemouth Bass 5, 6 and 7 pounds and one weighing over 8 pounds. This love for fishing occurred about a decade before I decided I wanted to begin photographing nature. I can’t do both. It was a very narrow opening in the transition from the deadwater to the final opening which is the pond and finally the dam. He stayed right at the that pinch point watching her….and for all I know he had it in his head that he had to protect her from me. He made no indication to me that my presence was annoying him. He was at the very point, the tip of a peninsula that was about 10 feet wide. While he waited for her, he focused his attention on grasses near a block of granite that was left there probably in the 1800′s by early workers. There is no record of any work here, but they are angular in shape and they formed a very narrow, long and highly elevated point. At some time in my early years, it became obvious to me that these blocks did not get there via glaciation, but were put there by men and oxen or work horses. I suspect they once formed a path or roadway entirely bridging this waterway and later were dynamited to allow water to water to flow at a greater rate. This was the site of the old dam.
At this narrow opening, I was only less than 10 feet from him the entire time he waited for her. We both waited together. And she took her time, less than 200 feet from us and enjoying the pond. Does this sound like any relationship you are familiar with? I did not follow her down into her tour of the small pond. The pond is only about 50 yards wide by 100 yards long. I opted to stay back near him. As he closely delved into the grasses, apparently just wasting time as he waited for her, he made one-note audibles that to me sounded melancholy, maybe even sad. It was like a high-pitched one-note crying…a whimper. She made the same sound from time to time, as I spent this time with this pair. When she came back through, she again stopped at the place she had shown nesting interest in on her way to the pond.
She again started pulling up hunks of muck and moving them behind her, to slightly higher elevations. He did not stick around this time. Leaving her, he slowly worked his way back toward the lake.
This is the second year I have spent time with this pair and this is the first time I have seen him leave her. I should say that without a tag, or some physical feature that I have not noticed, I do not know if this is the same pair as last year. I am assuming it and I do believe it. She eventually realized he was gone and began making her way toward him.
I wrote earlier that I never, ever push these loons. I never rush when I am around them…ever. With the electric motor I could easily have kept up with her or even passed her at her normal pace, unless she decided to she was going to outswim my electric-motored canoe; and then she could. But at this time, I wanted them to go on ahead and enjoy their solitude. I would catch up. So, by the time I reached them again, they had made it around the next bend in the flowage and were on the next, somewhat straight section. When I got them back into my sight and got within about 200 feet of the pair, I came to a very crawl, assessing my next move, so as to disturb them just as little as I had to. Make no mistake. I do this because I love them. It is that simple. I did not know until I began looking at the images I took of them, but when I am trying to get the perfect shot, they are looking at me. At this time it is only possible to understand what they are thinking by their body language and vocalizing. And who knows how to interpret those? I am certain that the sound of the digital single lens reflex camera’s action disturbs them. So I have switched to “Quite Mode”. It is not nearly silent but definitely quieter than the normal mode.
the ALEWIFE RUNS: At some time in early June the Alewifes begin migrating from the Atlantic ocean, up into the streams and eventually upstream to the pond or lake their ancestors spawned in.
As you look at the video, please know that the milk-colored clumped particles you see in the water are not pollution. This lake and pond and very clean. The milk-colored things suspending in the water are clumped together, fine particles of Eastern White Pine pollen. At this time of the spring/summer, the placid waters here are blanketed with floating massed of this pollen.
Click here to see the endings of a several week long Alewife run into my boyhood pond in late June 2016. These fish made it up a fish ladder that allowed them to leave the stream and pass through the interior of the dam. That is because the fish ladder was constructed to pass though the inside, not over the top. Here the Alewives are spending the last week or so in the pond, before they re-enter the fish ladder, down to the stream and back to the Atlantic ocean. Many of these fish choose to stay in the pond, not returning to the ocean.
When I was a boy on this pond, there were no Alewife runs. That is because the stream outfall from the pond was damed in 18?? In fact, along America’s east coast during the 1800′s, many dams were constructed across many tributaries that all eventually emptied into the Atlantic. Before the dams, anadromous fish migrated up these streams to spawn in pond and lakes where their ancetors spawned for millenia before them. Very sadly, after the dams, the fish swam up the tributaries and were denied their ancetral spawning grounds…..unless there was a fish ladder installed in the dam and that fish ladder was maintained.
JUNE 2, 2016: (Beginning of loon egg incubation, possibly June 1): I put in and began heading toward the pond/dam, hoping to see them down at the nesting site I was sure they had chosen. It was just before the pond. Then, at the hairpin turn in the kayak trail, I saw one of the loons sitting on a nest. With an incubation period of 26-30 days, and with a lot of luck, the first egg (if there are two) will hatch any time between Tuesday, June 28 through Saturday, July 2.
I was wrong on the nest location. They chose the alternate site, the second choice. And I think that either would have been good location for this pond. They chose to nest on a hairpin turn in the kayak trail, but right in front of a year-round resident camp/house that sits about 200 feet up on a hill, looking down onto the nest.
When I was a boy I thought how nice it would be to buy the old, rotted camp that sat here, simply because it was the ideal location. It sat on a prominent hill, at that sharp turn in the deadwater, but had a clear view all the way to the very upper tip of the main lake. That dilapidated camp serves as a boat house now. There is no way I would have been able to buy the place. It was owned through all those years by the man who owns the land adjacent to the first nesting site. He gave that spot to his son, who erected a new building. And his son is just as quiet and inconspicuous as the father. In fact, I have never seen the son, his wife or the children, but I can tell by the vehicles on the hill, that the place is a residence, more than a camp. So, anyone who makes the choice to approach a sitting loon at this nest, knows that he will be running the risk of being watched. Of course, anyone and everyone knows that it is a no-no to approach a sitting loon with a damned cell phone. But they did it anyway last year, and this caused the abandonment of the nest. I think the chances are much better this year for successful reproduction. Late June! This is good too because the extreme heat will be avoided; i.e. the parents will be off the nest by July. Last year, they were still sitting into the week after July 4. Could the extreme heat have played in the abandonment? I do not know. But I doubt it. I know that many waterbird species endured temps well into the 90′s F while sitting on the nest throughout the entire day, day after day for a full month. I always greatly admired the sitting waders in the Everglades. In the glades, from May, well into September, although there are also torrential rains of short duration every day, it is sunny most of the day and well into the 90′s F. How can they possibly stay on that nest?
June 11, 2016 It is 4:18 am and I am preparing to head to my BP. I always arrive at the landing no later than 6:30 a.m. And I am always out of the water and headed home sometime between 9-10 a.m. The critical period for this loon pair nesting on my BP is approaching fast. Or it is already here. They chose to nest at a hairpin turn in the canoe/kayak channel that connects the main lake to my BP, exposing them to close passing watercraft, albeit all hand propelled. And the other good thing is that the nest location is clearly visible from a year round residence that sits up on a hill, above the nest site. On this morning, as I will for every day from now until the young are born and fledge, I will maintain a distance of between 50-100 feet as I pass by the sitting loon. Any photograph I take will be captured as I am passing by from a distance. And I will be closely watch how the sitting loon is reacting to my passing. If people begin to closely approach the nest with their cell phones, the loon will be increasingly agitated and there will be an increasing likelihood that the loons will abandon the nest. It is 4:29 a.m. and I am just now hearing the first crow calling outside my window. Time to get moving. Writing this at 4:36 am, June 24 (Friday): Last week I photographed the BCNH, GBH and GBBG catching alewives at the dam crest. Am now preparing to head up to the BP to hopefully see a loon on a nest. I am hoping and praying to see the downy chick(s) on a parent’s back next week. July 2 will be 30 days from June 2. And on June 2 I cannot be certain that that was the day they began sitting. If they make it, the chick will arrive before the 4th of July.
Today is June 24…. and I am hoping and praying to see one or two tiny balls of down atop a parent’s back on their maiden voyage within the next week.
June 27, (Monday) : I was on the water before 6 a.m. A loon is still sitting on the nest. The more people and watercraft passing the sitting loon, the greater the chances something will happen. I hope the chances are low because these are weekdays.
June 27-28 (Tues-Wed.): Rain cells 27th night with intermittently strong winds. Rainy 28th morn, then nearly clearing, then threatening thunderboomers, with lightning in the afternoon. I liked and did not like this: 1. It keeps human traffic away from the loon nest. 2. A major cause of mortality in birds can be extended spring rains. If they hatch in rain, it will not take much rain on those down feathers for them to die from hypothermia. Of course the sitting parent knows this and will make every effort to keep the new chick dry, but it still has to have enough room to breathe. I was very concerned.
The egg(s) had now been incubated at least 26 days and so this was the first day for a possible hatch. I had a hunch that this was the day I would see baby loons….and at the same time I was concerned for their survival.
This was an electrical cell and so was going to be of short duration. The weather report indicated it would continue for about an hour. It was 2:25 pm, pouring rain, and I was not on the lake.
I contemplated going to the nest site. I looked at the radar and I did expect to see the Sun before sunset. And then I saw the thunderstorm passed sooner than the predicted hour and it was sunny. Hoping for the best, I decided to go to the nest area.
FINALLY, A LOON CHICK!
At some time around 4 p.m. on June 28 I approached the nest area. From a distance of about 100 yards I could see the loon adults close together, in the deadwater, at the hairpin turn. As with other birds, when they are nesting, you will never see both adult animals foraging together, because one is always on the nest.
So when I saw these two together I knew there was a baby loon(s) or nesting had failed again, two years in a row.
And then, right between them I could see a tiny gray loon chick. I was elated to a height I cannot describe. I was filled with love and joy! It was a thrill to see that itty-bitty ball of down feathers, bobbing on the placid pool. The pressure was off. Success! I knew it hatched during the thunderstorm. I decide to stay back at my current distance because the adults were moving in tight arcs faster than normally and quickly looking all around, apparently trying to assess their next move.
Obviously they were agitated by my approach and confused as to what to do. All animals have an instinct that allows them to anticipate a dangerous situation that is about to unfold. I explain: If they were without the baby, they would not act in the agitated manner because when they are on water, they can easily escape any move I make. But not so with the new chick. Yes, they can paddle away, but their fastest mode is swimming underwater and they cannot do this with a newborn. At least I do not believe they can and have not read otherwise. So they were stuck right on that hairpin turn. And that is why they were quickly turning to each other and every which way to try to find an out. But I love them. I knew that they would stress out if I approached that pinched area of the slough. So using the paddle as a pole, I pushed my craft off the channel and into the aquatic weeds. They then relaxed.
After several minutes two young men came down from the camp on the hill with fishing gear and approach the dock that is very near the loons. We nodded, acknowledging each other’s presence and said hello. They saw that I am taking a few shots of the loons as they loaded their boat to go fishing. I did not realize that they did not know there was a baby until one of them proclaimed his surprise as he saw the baby. We began speaking and he told me that it had to have hatched within the hour because he was just down here an hour ago.
The baby was less than 1 hour old. One adult gently opened its wings, encouraging the baby to hop on.
LOW FREQUENCY SOUND IN NATURE…..INFRASOUND:
And I could not help but wonder if the thunder actually stimulated that yet unborn chick to break out of the egg. Don’t laugh, low frequency sound has been demonstrated to greatly effect wildlife behavior. Many times I listened to Everglades alligators bellow in response to the roar of Air Force fighter jets from the Homestead airbase as they flew over Anhinga Trail in ENP. Elephant researchers documented similar responses in Africa. Two separate groups of researchers were communicating with handheld radios, each in separate tents and miles apart. The first group said that the elephants they were watching were alarmed, yet there was no apparent danger. The second group responded by saying that the elephant group they were watching was being attacked by lions. Both elephants and alligators (and many other species) emit a sound frequency that is off the lower end of the range of sound waves that we can hear. Infrasound is the opposite of ultrasound, which is a very high frequency and off the other end of our detectable range (a dog whistle). But infrasound penetrates much, much farther than ultrasound does. I remember being on the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area with my daughter and watching the second stage of a shuttle launch just rising above the horizon in Titusville, Florida, about 150 miles north of us. Then, about 13 minutes later, we heard a very low rumbling sound in the otherwise dead stillness of Corbett. I remember because I looked at my watch. When we walked back to the home in a few minutes, I checked references for the speed of sound. The sound was that of the solid fuel, 1st stage booster of the shuttle. Low frequency sound travels unimaginable distances.
The parents headed northward, on the slough, out to the big lake with their special presentation. When got there, they spent much time yodeling. Once they passed me, I let them go way ahead….about 200 yards ahead. It was too risky to do otherwise. I suspected that if they had a chick, they would directly take it out of shallow waters and into the lake basin. It is too risky in those shallow, closed-in waters….too many predators, too close and the water was shallow enough to allow a predator from beneath to take the chick with no warning.
When the parents were down at the nest site I could see one of them gently, slowly and only slightly open its wing, encouraging the newborn to hop on. The baby looked up at that steep ledge formed by the parent body and did not attempt it during the time I was able to watch. But, by the time I got to the lake the newborn had already climbed up onto a parent and under its wing. It was nowhere to be seen, but I could see the bulge of the wing. I was very happy that the reason I was unable to have a chance at photographing the chick successfully climbing up onto the parent’s back…..is because I stayed back that long distance. :) The next morning I was able to get some shots of the baby’s first hours on the surface of the lake.
The young men stayed in their boat as they did not want to do anything to disrupt this new loon family. After about 15 minutes it became clear that the adults were going to begin gradually moving toward the lake. I was elated as they had to pass by me to get to the lake. The young men stayed back with their gas powered boat. I waited until loons got a good 200 yards past me before I began following with my electric powered canoe. Staying at least 200 yards back, I slowly followed them up to the lake. The young men overtook me near the head of the slough, where it opens into the lake, as I told them that the loons had successfully made it to the lake and were up ahead. Then I very slowly approached the area where the deadwater opens into the lake. This is where the loons chose to stay for some time with their new chick. They began to become vocal, letting out small cries at first but later making all manner of calls. I attempted to record these with some of my first wildlife videos.
June 29, Friday: I had an 8:30 a.m. doctor’s appointment about 20 miles south. This gave me enough time to check on the loon family. I was in the water by 5:45 a.m. From my perspective, it is important that I mention here that once the chick(s) hatched, I no longer felt great apprehension that they would not nest successfully.
They were now free of the nest, having mobility, and the chick was with them. It was ok for people to intermingle with them again. I was in no hurry now. There would be plenty of time for me to record some images alone with them during the upcoming weekdays, when nobody else was around. This morning I slowly caught them up the lake a ways, where they were picking material from the bottom and presenting it to the chick. This was on the East side of the South end of the lake. It would be the only day they fished for their chick on the East side. I would later discover that they chose the West side in the mornings and that they did not stay in one area for more than a day or two, probably having exhausted the area of all small fish, crayfish and eels.
July 2, Saturday: I have not returned, partly because I know there will be too many people at the ramp for my liking. I will be in the water by 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, July 5th, as Monday is July 4th, a busy holiday. I know that everything will be ok now, barring some unforeseen predation, which has only a remote chance of happening.
WHY DO THE PARENT LOONS NEVER TAKE THE CHICK TO THE POND?: Even before the chick came into the world, the pair rarely went to the pond. There may be several reasons for this. To get to the pond, the loons travel on the water. It is a casual excursion and I have seen them do it just a few times and always before the chick was born. They never took the chick to the pond and the only time they entered the slough with the chick was the day it was born, as they made their way up to the lake with their new chick.
1. To become airborne, loons must run over a very long straight length of open water while flapping their wings as aggressively as possible. And once airborne, they are poor maneuverers, so they do not like tight areas. I liken them to jet airliners. On the slough that connects the lake with the pond of my boyhood, there is no such stretch of open water. The longest length of slough where both ends can be seen, may be long enough for a loon to reach air bouyancy, but at one end are huge Red Oaks and the entire length of this streach is strewn with large granite boulders. Ok, but why don’t the adults fly down to the pond? I am also certain that the pond of my boyhood is not long enough for a loon to become airborne. So even if they flew down to the pond, they would not be able to fly back. So, when the loons come to the pond, they travel on the surface, while sometimes diving for a fish.
2. And in those close surroundings and shallow waters, it would be much easier for a predator to quickly take the chick before the parents even noticed. In the open water of the lake where they forage each morning for the chick, the adults almost always have a clear view to the chick, even when they are under water. This would not be the case in the slough. Sometimes when one of the parent’s surfaces with food for the chick, I find my canoe blocking the view between the adult and the chick. That is when the adult lets out a low volume, fairly high pitched “hoot” sound. It is one sinlge note and can only be heard for a short distance.
So, it is safer in the lake because it is more open and they need that long length to become airborne. Whenever I ponder on what predator the parents would have no defense against I always think of the Snapping Turtle. I know that the shallow habitat of the slough and pond are perfect for the snapper. But the Wood Duck mother raises her young in the slough and pond area, not around the edges of the lake. And the other puddle ducks also go through their reproductive cycle in the very shallow, littoral zones of the lake, slough and pond. But in this place that I am studying the loons they do not use the littoral zone. Although she did begin building a nest at the pond before they moved to their permanent nesting site in 2016.
Maybe the reason the loons choose the deeper lake over the slough and pond is because they want to get the chick accustomed to the big waters as soon as possible. I think that if not for their inability to walk or even stand, Common loons would not even nest on freshwaters.
Since writing these last few sentences I have learned more about the loons. With its deeper waters, the lake offers a learning experience for the youngster not available in the relatively much shallower slough and pond. The lake more-mimics those conditions the young loon will face when it leaves the lake in the fall. And by the way, this breeding season is quite compressed. The young loon cannot know what it is facing in the months ahead. It must put on enough weight and muscle to allow it to get off this lake before it freezes.
Update: The last sentence was written sometime in the summer 2016. By early October 2016, I learned that the chick and parents had left for the ocean, at least two months before the lake would freeze.
JULY 5, 2016, 5:45-8:30 a.m.: Once launched I headed for the lake because it has become evident that this pair heavily favors the lake over the pond. I got to where the lake began opening up and did not see either loon. But I was looking mostly to the right side, as I headed NW. In the morning, the Sunlight gets gradually harsher because it is passing through less atmosphere until midday, when it is directly overhead and passing through the least atomosphere of the day. Because I only stay on the water a few hours in the morning, I had to use my time most efficiently. I turned and headed for the pond, now not confident that the loons would not be down there. They better be, or the only other place was way up in the lake. I gambled and headed for the pond. Here I ran across the hen Wood Duck and she gave her usual alarm call, gathering the duckling and directing them into one of their escape slots in the emergent vegetation. She stopped and looked back at me, as I passed, shooting to get that one good image. I continued on. The loons were not at the old nest site. The GBH was standing on a boulder, as it had on so many other days. I slowed the canoe so that it was moving with just enough motion to maintain a course, adjusting my camera in hopes of getting a good GBH shot. No such luck, although it does usually stick around longer if I go very, very slow. I continued on, taking a few reflection shots.
August 7, 2016
I saw no more animal life until I entered onto the pond of my boyhood. I could see something headed my way in the water. It was either a beaver or muskrat. I made all the adjustments to the camera and simply stayed absolutely still as it approached. It was a muskrat. It passed me with 10 feet and I thought I got at least one very sharp image. I did not and boy was I disappointed. I just do not understand this camera at times.
I turned and headed back toward the lake. Just past where I had seen the GBH on the boulder, I could see what I assumed was the disturbance of a big largemouth bass moving my way in a channel and near the surface. I stopped off to the side and remained absolutely motionless. It kept coming, though my face and upper body were completely visible to it. Whatever it was, it was right at the surface. I was thrilled to watch a very large snapping turtle slowly pass right next to me, within 3 feet. Its carapace was about 24” diameter. It saw me and I am sure eventually realized I was a human, but it was not spooked. It is because I stayed very still. I went all the way to the lake opening and even continued northwesterly, intending to motor around the entire lake, looking for the loons. But after I got about 1/3 of a mile up into the lake, I realized that it was longer than I thought and it would be a long paddle back if I ran out of battery prematurely. That is one problem with an electric motor. I have the 45 pound Minn Kota Traxxis and it has a button on top that when pressed, with lite up 1, 2, 3, or 4 diodes, depending on how much power is left in the battery. But it is hard to see those lights partly because I am unable to turn the motor head toward me and partly because of the brightness of the ambient light. I was quite sure I saw two lights. Really, that was not enough for me. I decided to turn and head back toward the deadwater.
Then I saw the loons. The entire time they were to the left, on my first run northward into the lake, as I was looking to the right. Now I approached them very, very slowly. One adult was fishing while the other was tending to the baby. The one that was fishing also took to fight at one point. They did not like me anywhere near them today. She partially submerged with I got to within 20 feet distance. At one point she left the baby and went fishing for about 3 minutes. I remember feeling partly responsible if anything happened to the baby. It remained in one position while looking in the direction of its parent. When the adult came back, it stopped about 50 feet from the chick and the chick paddled rapidly to its parent. I left for the ramp and the end of my outing. At one point, when the adult went under and left the baby, it swam right under my canoe and I had a perfect image etched in my mind of the loon swimming underwater. I had a clear view of it, with almost no reflection. That is when I kicked my butt for not bringing the video. After this day, I did some worrying that the one that took to flight had possibly deserted its mate and the baby and headed for the ocean. I know it was a stretch to think this, but these loons do encounter a lot of people during the weekends
JULY 8, 6 to 10 a.m.: It is overcast, a front change, and when that occurs, there is the accompanying brisk wind. This time it is out of the NW and the lake is a little rough. I could not find the loons at the bottom of the lake, and I headed down to the pond as I usually do, really not believing that they would be down there. I was concerned. Could one parent be forced to raise the baby? And if so, how could that parent possibly be successful? I had not run across anything in the literature related to this scenario. I was quite certain I would not see the loons in my glide down to the pond and dam. But it was where I always headed after I put in so why not now. The only way to get there was via the slough.
Before I tell you about sloughs, I need to mention that at this time, the obvious had not dawned on me: Because the wind was out of the north, the most likely place to find the loons was farther north on the lake, into the wind. This is because the farther you head into the wind on a body of water, the less effect the wind has on the water surface and so, the less rough the water is. Also, I would be more likely to find the loons in a leeward cove, out of that north wind.
Their chick was just 9 days of age and still a tiny ball of down. It would be easier on their baby, easier for them to feed that tiny ball of down. For it to survive and grow, it was critical that they provide it with a constant flow of energy until such time as it could feed itself. After spending many hours watching the new chick, it became clear to me that it had to develop an appetite. In the chick’s first several days it was very fussy about what it would eat. The parents would have to chase the little one around with their offerings of tiny fish and crayfish. While it was often moving away and looking back as if to say “Are you kidding me? I am not the least bit interested.” And the crayfish were often rejected altogether, assumedly because they were latching onto the chick’s soft tissue with the pincers. And in those first few days of life, the fish the parents brought to it were so tiny that it seemed that they were feeding it vegetaion off the bottom of the lake. After some thought, it occurred to me that there must be a tiny fish buried in those strings of vegetatioin they are presenting to their youngster.
As the days passed and then several weeks I guess, that all changed. The chick would now often make a buzzing sound as it waited impatiently for a parent to surface and the food to be brought to it. Gradually it began to meet the parent as it brought the prey item I do not know exactly when the change came about. After I realized it happened, I could not go back and relive what I had previously missed. I suspect that this all happend gradually, over many days, as so many of life’s processes. I suspect it did not happen suddenly. And that is probably why I missed it. I will not know until the next time I am able to document a loon chick’s birth and early days. After the days pass by, you cannot bring them back. But maybe there will be a next time. Later, I would conclude that as early as 45 days of age, the chick might have a good chance of supporting itself.
Virtually all watersheds on Earth’s northern hemisphere, the waters moved to the south. Later I will tell why this is. The lake’s tailwaters openned into a large cove, mostly comprised of a littoral zone, and then entered into the slough and eventually into the pond and finally spilling over the dam and into a brook. The rocky brook meandered about 5 miles to the south (as the crow flies), eventually spilling into an old, meandering river with a marine clay bottom and whose tailwaters became an estuary. This estuary has significance that is unique on the entire planet. I cannot divulge that signifance at this time without naming the Pond of my Boyhood. And considering the pace at which the human population is growing, I would rather not tell the world where this pond is.
SLOUGH (“SLOO”) Here I have chosen to use the word “slough” to identify the strip of water that I travel along when I leave the carryon ramp at the bottom of the lake and head to my boyhood pond. I first encountered the word when I was an Everglades Wildlife Biologist. A slough can be variously described, even by the knowledgeable among us. A slough is the lowest-lying land in the Everglades basin, so that when water moves over the surface, it inherently follows these lowest areas, even in the most severe droughts. The water is channelled through these lowest areas. And over the years….many, many years…..the very slow-moving waters create and maintain channels in these lowest of areas.
Through that most important of all biochemical processes in the Biosphere, photosynthesis, the Sun provides the energy used to continually provide plant growth. The plants die and decay, forming an ever-increasing bed of detritus or muck. These marshy rivers are relatively deep as they keep a channel open within this very deep bed of detritus. Sloughs are the deepest areas in the Everglades marsh, remaining flooded in all but the most severe droughts. This slough that I use in the 47th north latitude, to get to my pond reminds me of the ones I airboated in the glades. In fact, virtually all the species are the same ones native to the Everglades, the American alligator being the most noted exception. Here at my boyhood pond, this slough, about 3000 feet in length, is a narrow corridor of meandering deadwater that connects two basins, the lake to the pond.
The lake water has to move in a southerly direction to the pond/dam. Judging by the angle of the fine filaments of some of the submerged vegetation, these slough waters are moving almost exactly at the same velocity as the Everglades waters I was accustomed to. The water is barely moving from the lake to the pond/dam. The dominant emergent plants in the slough are Pickerel Weed, arrowhead, Lotus and White Water Lily…THE SAME EMERGENT SPECIES THAT INHABITAT THE EVERGLADES SLOUGHS.. And over the millennia since the birth of this watershed, the plants have lived, died and decayed, adding to the current-day depth of the detritus. I cannot determine that detritus depth but it is at least in excess of 20 feet. So, the waters could not be stopped in their movement to the south.
GLACIATION, Maker of northern hemisphere freshwater bodies: The channel that was established from the beginning, was established ages ago, at least millennia and more likely eons. It is strewn with granite boulders that were shed like grains of sand from the giant glacial caps that moved southerly from the north tip of Earth toward the south, carving, gouging these deep troughs (troffs). And the waters melted and flowed southward in these new depressions.
And this is how all rivers were born in the northern hemisphere and this is why almost all flow southward.
Today, I still have not learned exactly where all these boulders are, and I occasionally run the canoe hull and motor skeg into and up over them. The skeg on my electric motor is bent from this. Along the slough, in each trip to the pond and back, I encounter Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, a few largemouth bass, countless Alewives during their spring runs, an occasional snapping turtle, Bald Eagle or Osprey…..and perhaps hundreds of Barn Swallows. The mother Wood Ducks, upon detecting me, give a crying alarm call to the ducklings to take cover. The flightless ducklings respond instantly, scurrying as fast as they possibly can move, along the water right to the escape route that leads to a very narrow opening up and into the surrounding forest. Wood Ducks are aptly named, as they inhabit as much the woodlands that surround the marshes and swamps as the waters themselves. Wood Ducks, much more than other pond ducks, are apt to make their escape to surrounding woodlands via the water surface, rather than catapulting themselves into the air and flying some distance to safety back on the water surface. The other pond ducks will fly, but the Woody is much more likely to stick to the surface and sneak into surrounding woodlands. , She leads her ducklings along the marshy shoreline to that opening. And the mother Wood Duck continues with her annoying, and now unnecessary alarm call. Maybe it is just to make sure that they stay put in the upland vegetation they are now in. It really is impressive how they instantly respond to her call and move so fast to the woods. Sometimes, if she is near that opening, it seems she is like a school teacher supervising the moving kids, by simply remaining in one positions they kids pass by, heading to a predetermined destination. The mother Woody will call, and wait at the opening, until all the ducklings pass by her in single file, up out of the water and into the surrounding forest. It happens quickly enough that I am almost always unable to respond quickly enough to capture some stills with my camera.
POLLUTION ! As I recalled from my boyhood years, this lake was polluted….not the pond I frequented, but the lake. You do not have to be a scientist to know if the waters you love are polluted. As I recalled, the lake was not a nice place to be around and its reputation had gone down. The word was out that this was not a place to buy a waterfront camp. Or if you did, it could be bought for very cheap money in those days. We thought that the lake had been permanently ruined by a lot of people simply doing the wrong things. But as a nature-based scientist who came back to this place 50 years later, I can say with confidence and joy now……THIS PLACE IS NOT POLLUTED! It is a highly diverse, healthy, aquatic ecosystem. And literally, I get choked up and the tears well up in my eyes to see how vibrant this place is today. Yes, I cry with the joy of this. Here is the quick story as told to me by a former resident I know, whose family once owned a huge piece of the shoreline of this lake with several camps: Decades ago it became obvious to the lake residents that the waters were polluted. When this happens on waters that have a significant density of camps around it, the most likely reason is unmaintained septic systems. These systems need maintainence, just as anything manmade does. And when they are neglected over the years, the effluent eventually gets into the waters. So the camp owners got together and formed a lake association. And of course all the camp owners agreed to allow septic system inspections to done. It is a simple task to determine if a camp’s septic system is leaching out and into the lake, because the related bacteria are detected in abundance right at the camps water frontage. It is exciting to know that such pollution can be reversed if people work together to come to an end that is good for all. Just remove or correct the source of the organic pollution and nature will do the rest. It is really just that simple.
July 12, 2016, Tues: At the opening of this story I said that I regretted not photographing the reproduction of aquatic insects in late May and through much of June. At that time I could see them in abundance clinging to the emergent plants on the lake and pond. These are the various species of Dragonflies and Damselflies. In their nymph stage, they ascend the plant stems, where there adult bodies break free from the nymph case and then they remain attached as they wings go through the drying process, before they embark on their very short lives. Today, I decided to motor to an area where I knew there just might be a few of them still emerging. And there was….just one! It is a short distance from the carry-on ramp that is hard-bottomed and where the shells of Blue Mussels and at least one species of snail are common along that bottom. I need to identify that snail species. Last year I spent a lot of time observing the odonatans that ascended the Sedge (Carex spp) species in this area. I got out of my canoe and waded this area with the intention to shoot some close-ups of these odonatans. I found just one dragonfly that had shed its nymph casing and was going through the drying process.
After photographing this emerged dragonfly I dragged the canoe to a very shallow area so that I could sit on it, remove my wading slippers and get back into the canoe. It is important to be in very shallow water when getting in or out of a canoe, but while still maintaining floatation. If you get into and attempt to launch a canoe/kayak when it is nearly grounded, it is almost impossible to make headway because the added weight creates far too much fricton. For me, the ideal water depth is about to the knees, and not up to the thighs or much at all below the knees.
I headed to the Pickerelweed area where I thought I would see the Eastern Kingbird I photographed yesterday as it hunted for flying aquatic insects. But I was disappointed after sitting idle in the canoe and seeing no Kingbird activity. I headed closer to shore and into the area that had the deepest detritus material in the lake. It is the tailwaters at the southern end of the lake. This area receives the greatest wind energy because it is the north wind that has the greatest energy. So any organic material that is carried down the lake is deposited here. The muck is deep here. I would not attempt to get out of the canoe and stand here.
The male and female RW Blackbirds were not at all happy about having me intrude into the area they call home. He ………………
After photographing a pair of RW Blackbirds in a cattail area, I decided it was time for me to finish my outing that day. On the way back to the ramp I decided to revisit the Common Loons and the chick. But I was probably in a hurry and approached them too quickly.
AN ANGRY LOON: This is important for anyone who wants to be around loons: I approached the loons too quickly. As I approached them, the father turned and faced my approaching canoe. I know it was the father because it was bigger than the other adult loon (the mother) and the chick was with its mother, just a few feet away from the father loon, who was alone now and facing my canoe. It appeared to me that he was not at all comfortable with me being there. He turned and began paddling away from me, his mate and their chick. He was headed in a southerly direction, in the direction of the pond. I stayed for several more minutes to try to get something new in photographs about the mother and chick. Then I broke off the engagement and finally headed for the ramp. On the way back to the ramp I heard an aggitated quacking coming from a duck along the shoreline, in some Pickerelweed. I saw a squabble developing between the father Loon and a Mallard Duck. The father loon was actually attacking the duck. When I say attacking I do not mean that it was actually attempting to do bodily harm. I do mean that the Loon was angry. It crouched into a low body posture, rushing at the duck and flailing its wings.
Clearly, the duck had no idea why this was happening and it retreated as the loon attacked it. During this time I was unable to get any pictures because I was not expecting this and did not have the camera prepared with the proper settings. There were two attacks. And I am convinced that I was part of the reason for that father loon to be angry. I am certain of it.
But I refuse to take all the blame. No matter what the species, raising young is constant work and often becomes frustrating. None of us has yet been able to document the intricacies of the relationship between the male and female loon during these times. Again, part of this is due to the lack of Sexual Dimorphism, making it often impossible to determine which sex we are looking at. The other challenge is that the Common Loon really does have an intricate social life.
This loon turned and faced my approaching canoe. It did not want me in the area. Then it began paddling for the pond to the south. Along the way, it vented its frustrations. This is Displaced Aggression. Displaced Aggression is a theory first postulated by
I am convinced that this is exactly what happened.
It is highly likely that Common Loons do not want us around them. But they always do now trust us around them…at least in Maine and probably all of Canada.
Loons do tolerate us in very close proximity to them and yes….Common Loons even leave their chick(s) right next to us when they feel they must go off and protect their territory or do some other business that loons do. I have found myself alone with the chick several times this season. Things get very quiet as the little one stays put in its earlier development and we just look at each other. Or I use these opportunities to get some heartwarming chick images.
But I believe the Common Loon needs us for nothing at all…except to be good stewards of the lakes and ponds they depend on during their breeding season. I am convinced that when both parents leave the chick near me, it is entirely by co-incidence; i.e. I happen to be there when they would have left the chick alone regardless of me being there. BUT….they do now trust us, as they were unable to in decades past. That is heartening in itself.
July 16, 2016, Friday: Launched at about 5:45 p.m.
The outing was typical of recent ones, in that the parents were busy feeding their baby tiny fish. I am trying to identify these fish. Again they capture these fish almost at will; i.e. the adult usually comes back with a tiny fish, or much less often, a small crayfish, almost on every dive.
But the routine has somewhat changed. Now, for the first time since the little one came into the world, the parents are willing to leave the baby alone on the surface while they both dive. And also for the first time, the baby is dunking its head and peering underwater, just what its parents do.
July 18, 2012, when I arrived the Sun is about 2 hands above the horizon: I motored toward the lake, for what would be, a very interesting encounter with the loons.
DIVING AT 19 DAYS OF AGE !
Today, the youngster is stretching its stubby wings and flapping them and it has begun to dive. The water depth is surely less than 20 feet, but it did dive repeatedly and stayed down longer than I could possibly have after diving for many years of practice. It is now only 19 days of age.
When I arrived, the two adults were at least 1/4 mile apart when they apparently spotted me motoring into the lower lake from the carry-on ramp. One adult was at the sweep of a lowland that yields to a shallow stand of cathedral Eastern White Pines, that separates the southern opening of the lake from the lake’s SW cove. Since the hatching, this has been one of the areas the adults favor for fishing. I motored past that loon, passing no closer than about two-hundred yards and also saw a Bald Eagle come off one of the catherdral pines and head north apprarently to the stand of catherdral pines that surround the cottage with the seaplane. At first I was alarmed by the great distance between the two parents, coupled with the fact that I could not see the young loon with either adult. Then I saw the smaller loon now, with the adult that was farther out into the lake, more to the eastern side but south of the seaplane. Since the hatching, and with the exception of one day in which the wind was blowing hard out of the NW, the adults have not taken the chick any farther north than the seaplane cove. I backed off and gave them more than 200 yards distance, as they clearly began paddling toward each other. At a distance of about 300 yards, the lone loon let out a yodel and it was answered by the adult that was with the youngster. The continued paddling to each other. As they closed to within 50 or so feet I realized that the lone loon had a small fish, a gift for the youngster. I tried to capture the instant it was passed to the young loon. Even with a 10 frames per second camera, it is difficult to capture the instant that they connect and pass the fish.
On this outing I spoke with a friendly man who was lounging at the lakeside with binoculars, watching the loons. From behind me, I had heard what sounded like a man and wife talking several minutes before. I thought they had left. Then, I only became aware he was there when he spoke to me from a distance of about 200 feet.
“You must be getting some great pictures with that camera.”
He as right. But I modestly responded with what was the actual truth.
“Oh hi, Yuh, but it is pretty difficult in this light.”
A thunderhead probaby 20 miles to the north had now blocked the sun. We had a pleasant conversation about the loons while we kept that distance of 200 feet while I continued to shoot and tried to stay out of his line of sight to the loons. These are the things that are possible on a quiet body of open water while one is observing natrure. The loons do not mind being very, very close to the canoe….say about 10 feet away…as long as it is the gentle breeze that is carrying me to them. If I am deliberately moving toward them, they paddle away at about the same pace that I am motoring toward them. Also, if the fishing loon gets separately from the loon that is staying with the youngster, the lone loon will pass by my canoe quite closely on its return to the pair with its little prize.
“Wow, it is fascinating that they seem to like being around you.” he said. I
I feel I can now estimate that on this lake, these adults have about an 80% success rate when diving for fish for their youngster. At this point it is actually funny to watch the exchange. The youngster is grabbing the fish from the adult as if it expects the handout…and of course it does. I imagine this trio stays busy like this the entire day. This little one is growing far faster than I would have expected. Now I am going to post process the shots of this outing:
July 20, 2016: About 5:45 a.m. to 8:30am. chasing off the commorant
July 21, 2016: same time, chasing off a cormorant or another loon, tried to video the loons
Many species will tolerate humans in close proximity to them. The Common Loon (Gavia immer) is one that has a high tolerance for people around it. In my home state of Maine this has not always been the case, and I cannot speak for other regions. When I was a boy in the 60′s in Maine and up until probably well beyond the 80′s, Common Loons were not revered by all Mainers. I spent much of my boyhood on top of many inland waters and in all throughout those days and years, all Common Loons maintained a very long distance between them and any human that was on the water. Farther back than that, loons were really treated terribly. In his correspondence with Arthur Cleveland Bent for the Life Histories of North American Birds, one writer told how early waterfowl hunters blasted loons for wingshooting practice.
All this has completely changed for a much better relationship for people and loons. Today, I often am able to very slowly approach to within 10 feet of adults and their loon chick I have been photographing in the 2016 summer has several times come to within 2 feet of my canoe’s hull.
And yes, when suddenly the loon parents are faced with an intruding loon or cormorant, they will race off over the water surface, confront the intruder and force it to leave. In this case, they have left the youngster with me.
Of course their leaving of the chick with me was not deliberate. But there is no doubt that to at least these parent Common Loons, driving off their own species or the related Double-crested Cormorant was much higher priority than watching my activity near their chick. They went at least 100 yards away and were gone for several minutes. During that time, the chick showed that it was not comfortable it being left with just me around it.
A good example here, of a species with a low tolerance for humans is the GBH. But this may be due to the fact that, knowingly or unknowingly, people on the surface of a water body often disrupt the GBH’s fishing activities, simply because humans and Great Blue Herons often use the same area of the lake/pond; i.e. the edge. But in Florida, where it has learned it can get a fish meal from human fisherman, the GBH will hang around fishermen along the beaches. Great Blue Herons in Everglades National Park are quite tolerant of people coming to within say 20-30 feet of them. This is not the case north of Tamiami Trail, which is the northern boundary of ENP. In the Everglades north of the Trail, the Great Blue Heron will not allow you anywhere near it. And this is undoubtedly due to the brutal treatment that many Rednecks give to all wildlife. Rednecks frequent the Glades north of the trail. On the whole these guys do not have a good reputation. Many will shoot at anything they encounter. I know; I was an Everglades Wildlife Biologist in those waters.
I believe that all species’ proclivity toward tolerating humans is not instinctive, but rather, learned. Some wildlife people believe the opposite.
I do not believe it can be demonstrated by anybody, anywhere, that any just-born of any species has an innate fear of humans. And the tolerance of humans exhibited by any individual within a species is modified through conditioning, either positive or negative. All wildlife within Everglades National Park learn very early that humans are not a threat. If perched low enough, any Red-shouldered Hawk inside ENP will allow you to walk right up to it and photograph it at a distance of about 2 feet…literally. It will look right past you and onto the ground, as it surveys the area for potential prey.
Once this loon chick was born, these Common Loon parents have been busy keeping it full of all species of fish, every single day. Aside from driving off other fish-eating bird competition, keeping this growing chick in fish food is all I have seen these parents do. It is now 21 July and for the last several days the parents are more often leaving the chick alone while they dive on their very short foragings. The chick just sits on the water and waits for the fish to be brought to it. And they often leave the chick, when I am quite close to them. How close? There have been many times when I have been as close as 10 feet from the chick when the parents dive. But I do not think that they parents like this. I can tell by the one melancholy note the adult makes when it returns with the fish from behind me. If when it returns with the fish, it finds that I am in between it and the chick, it will often give a low volume, one note call and stop behind me. I would characterize the sound as being melancholy. I am aware it is there because I catch that one sound, though it is quite soft and the loon does not immediately appear. So I turn my head as much as one can in a canoe, and I can see the stationary loon behind me. Now, in the time it would take me to move the canoe, the loon has already figured out to go around me. But no, it cannot be said that the loons like me being around them. They tolerate it well.
I do not believe that loons raise up and flap their wings solely for territorial reasons.
July 21, 2016: The carry-on ramp faces westerly into the loon waters. And the surrounding forest has not been cut for at least a century, so that the trees are cathedral in stature. I can tell this by the absence of any old, moss covered and greatly rotted, sawn stumps and the great stature of the Northern Red Oaks here, a climax species. These oaks are probably between 1 and 2 centuries old.
For all these days I have spent with the loons, when I launch the canoe, the Sun has yet to overcome the trees at my back. So that on every morning, when I reach water’s edge and look across the openness of the waters connecting the lake to the pond, the opposite shoreline is just receiving the first direct sunlight of the day, while the woodlands I am in and the ramp itself, are all still fully and deeply shaded. In fact, on returning from every day of my early morning outings with the loons, when I beach the nose of the canoe back at the ramp after shooting with the loons, there is always plenty of shade left to sit within and scrutinize the images of the morning in the camera’s LCD screen. And in this capitalistic world, that is just one value of our magnificent trees…..that man cannot put a price on.
During one of these days around this time I headed down to the dam. The water was as low as I have ever seen it. The Wood Duck ducklings have all fledged. Now it seems that I can see Wood Ducks flying everywhere. Now, I can see why they really get their name. Wood Ducks heavily favor using woodlands, bordering water bodies as escape cover than all the other ducks, which will fly over the waters as they escape. In my glide down to the dam, I pushed up numerous Wood Ducks. They flew farther down toward the pond of my boyhood, which is where I was headed. I had learned that as I made my way to the pond, pushing up ducks along the way, they would double back over me in their determination to get back to the water from which I jumped them. And as I neared that last turn before entering the pond of my boyhood, I could see several Woodies divert their rapid flight back toward me, right into the heavy oaks that bordered the slough. They refused to fly over me, as all other puddle ducks would choose to do. It would be awesome to witness these little ducks darting through a mature woodland, ever-changing direction, without smashing into trees. Wood Ducks take to woods whenever they can.
August 7, 2016:
RAVENOUS…. is the word that describes the chick now. The parents cannot bring food fast enough. Waiting on the surface, the chick is now constantly scanning the lake surface for one of its parents to resurface, whereupon it paddles hurredly in the direction of the parent and fully outstretches its entire body to get to meet bill to bill.
For me, this is a testament to the need for unpolluted waters, the more pristine, the better. It is well documented that species diversity and biomass are directly related to habitat quality. As the habitat quality diminishes, there is less prey biomass. Common Loon parents need all the prey biomass they can possibly catch to assure that their offspring fully develops in time to get off the nesting waters and head for the coast before these inland waters ice in.
The food is either a small fish or, more often now, a small crayfish. And the chick is no longer reluctant to handle a crayfish, as it clearly was in its first two weeks of life.
Just after launching this morning, a lady in a competition rowing boat stopped and asked me if I was going to see the loons. As I think about it now, she may have wanted to get in the front of the canoe and go with me to see the loon chick. I think I will ask her next time I see her. I have seen her rowing here before. She told me that she had been coming to this lake to row for the last 4 years and that this is the first summer she has seen a chick. Now that was an interesting fact to learn.
This chick is acting just like the young of so many other bird species I have observed over many years; i.e. once it becomes accustomed to the parent fishing for it, it seems to become unwilling to forage for food on its own. I want to be here when that day comes.
SPREADING WINGS, not just a TERRITORIAL DISPLAY: I am now tending to agree with the concensus that the wing-spreading can be a territorial display, but that is not its only purpose.
Loons preen frequently. They usually preen after feeding. And preening almost always ends with an energetic wing spreading and flapping. In fact, the single reason I have so many sequences of loons flapping their wings is because I anticipate it. Once a loon begins to preen I make sure my camera has the settings conducive to capturing the flapping, because I know it is about to happen. And once it begins preening, I split my time between watching the adult and chick. I begin watching the preening adult loon much more closely. Just before it goes into its wing flapping, I know it is about to happen. This is not a territorial display.
It was only several minutes after I arrived at the loons that one of them turned its back to me and spread its wings and flapped. I do have a shot of one loon facing me, looking at me and going through the same routine of spreading and flapping its wings.
When I editted the images from that day, it did appear that this loon may have actually been in a threat display. I never deliberately stimulate the loons in any way, though it is obvious that my presence is minimally disturbing to them. Loons are very passive animals. If I was anywhere near a Common Gallinule’s nest, the adults would attack me. I know because it happend to me. Botton line here is that unless you’re in a loon’s mind, you can only venture an experienced guess as to how they perceive us near them. I believe that they have learned to trust us but are only content when alone. Their solitude is profound.
Now and then I mistakenly will end up with my canoe between the adult and chick. When this first happened the adults made a sound that in human terms would seem to say in a sorrowful way….. “Oh no” at the adult’s realization that the canoe is in the way of it reaching its baby. There is no doubt that they loons do not want you around them when they are feeding the chick. It is constant work for them. Only once did I make the mistake of rushing in.
August 8, 2016: I learned today that when the youngster’s appetite is satiated, it is like a switch shuts off. It begins to flex its wings and dive repeatedly.
In other words, at that point, the parents can take a welcome break. Yes, they do immediately recognize that the youngster’s hunger has been temporarily satiated. The chick begins to disappear on them….below the surface. The first time this happened, one parent frantically searched for the chick. Does this sound familiar to you mothers out there? On that first dive today, I began to be concerned because it was taking a long time down there. I think I shall time it tomorrow. And I am sure that we will be amazed how long this youngster can hold its breath underwater on just its 41st day of life. Oh, to be a loon!
Here is the male looking for the youngster…..
………that had just slipped below the surface and was going for its own dive….apparently just for fun, because after it ate this and one more smaller crayfish it was full and just wanted to dive and spread its wings. The temporary disappearance of the youngster allowed me to spend the better part of a minute photographing this parent with a crayfish. On the second dive and temporary disappearance by the youngster I was able to get some very close, sharp images of a parent, although the crayfish was small one.
And in this same sequence, the parent looked directly at me, as if I had an answer as to were the little one was.
After many days of watching these loons feed their chick, it became clear to me that the diet had switched to almost exclusively crayfish…or at least they were macroinvertebrates. Some were so small that I could not identify them.
WHY LOONS SOMETIMES HOLD CRAYFISH PREY UNDERWATER: And another interesting thing was that the parent often stopped with the crayfish prey in its bill, totally emersed its head in the water and seemed to just remain still there, or at most apparently gently manipulate the crayfish. I thought this was odd behavior. Why would it do this? The parent loon never seemed to be in any intense struggle with the crayfish. Then it dawned on me what was happening: A crayfish’s defensive mechanism is to latch onto the attacker with its pincers. Anyone who has handled a crayfish knows that hurts. And crayfish do not let go. A captured crayfish will latch onto the adult loon’s bill if it is in a position to do so. Well, how does the loon get the crayfish to release its pincers from the loon’s bill while still holding the crayfish itself? It immerses its bill back into the water and holds the crayfish there. Now the crayfish detects the opportunity to escape and so releases the loon’s bill. Instantly, the loon rearranges the crayfish in its bill so to regain control of it, but without allowing it to re-grasp the loon’s bill with its pincers. So here is a loon holding a crayfish underwater and temporarily letting go of it, so the crayfish will sense the chance to escape:
And below, you see a parent looking for its chick, which was on the water surface when the parent dived, but is nowhere to be seen now. I do admit that only occasionally I found my canoe between the parent and its chick.
When the parent is unable to locate the chick, which it had just been with, before the parent submerged, the parent often lets out a soft call, that can only heard very locally. The best way to describe it is that it sounds just like the sound that you can make by mimicing what you would think an owl’s hoot would sounds like…..only probably at a significantly higher pitch than what the owl’s hoot is. That is exactly what it sounds like.
Whenever its parents are underwater or have left the area and the chick finds itself fairly close to emergent plant stems, the chick likes to go inside the stems. I honestly believe it is getting the same enjoyment out of it as a human child would. Here it is at 40 days of age, enjoying the adventure inside the stems. Just think if you could do this……WOW!
August 9, 2016:: Yesterday was the first morning of the summer where there was the chill of early fall in the air. It happens every year up here. This morning it is chillier……55 degrees F. On the lake today the wind was out of the north but it was a welcome cool wind, considering that as with all summers, it has been hot and humid for a very long time. Today, for the first time since last spring, I put on my windbreaker until I get into the radiant energy from the sun’s direct light. I am not looking forward to winter and am hoping to be in a different part of the country shortly.
At the water’s edge I smelled the musty odor that comes from a stagnant body of water. We are in a drought and it is only in this small area around the carryon ramp that I smell this odor. Also, there is a major state highway about ½ mile away, across the bay I am facing and through a Red Maple swamp. Right now, I am hearing the extreme contrast between the serenity of nature and the chaos, confusion and insanity of capitalism. The people are racing to get to get to work and the noise from that highway is annoying. It will only last a short time until they all get to their jobs.
AUGUST 9, 2016 (the chick is 41 days of age): After spending much time with the loons I begin to get the deep gratification of knowing that they trust me. They turn their backs on me all the time. And they leave their chick around me. I have heard people say that they do the same with them. Others scoff at such a claim. But they have done it with me over and over. Today, the two adults surprised me again and left me wondering if they had permanently abandoned their chick. I was talking to John Dow on the water. We were making considerable noise with out conversation. Suddenly, one adult started running across the water and flapping its wings to take to flight. It did. It was gone. The second one looked at it and also disappeared. John left to eat and that left me about 200 yards away from a loon chick with no parents. I couldn’t leave. Over the next ½ or so, I gradually moved my canoe to within 100 yards and finally down to 200 feet, all the while I was focused on the northern lake horizon, expecting one of the adults to come flying in. But that did not seem likely to happen since the wind was out of the north and they flew into it when they left. This meant that to get back to me, they would have to fly with the wind and that is not the wind to land with because it is difficult to control the landing. To have greatest control of the landing, birds land into the wind.
Although loons can fly at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour, they are not designed for highly controlled flight. In airplane terms, we could liken the Common Loon to an airliner, good for high velocity once it gets up to that speed, but slow to get to that speed and not highly maneuverable at all. And when they land, it is always a controlled crash landing and always on water. Loons land on their breasts, initially using their feet as brakes. But the greatest factor in the loss of velocity is the drag or friction from the body sliding on the water surface. The loon flying on a rainy night that mistakes shining wet pavement for the surface of a lake …….. is doomed when it lands. The first thing to hit the pavement is its feet, and even its feets are not broken, the loss of velocity is enough to prevent the animal from regaining flight. This has happened to many of them.
Anyway, the parents were gone and I kept my eye on that youngster for most of 2 hours. The youngster did not seem to care a bit. It spent most of its time preening, raising up and flapping its stubby wings that still have down feathers on them as well as the flight feathers and diving. It repeatedly dived. All this time it was at least 150 feet away from me, and in one of those dives it popped up to the surface within 1 foot distance of me. We both were startled and it reacted so quickly to being face to face with me that I never even saw its body. It was super fast in reversing its direction down underwater again. I had to chuckle. It was playing games I think. After close to an hour it let out several loud calls and I could see it was concerned where its parents had gone. It started to make its way around some emergent vegetation, out of the cove and into the main lake. Then I heard loon yodel, probably at ½ mile’s distance and over in the cove where the seaplane was. It also caught the young one’s attention. It focused on that direction and after several minutes it started to paddle that way, only to stop about ½ of the way there and head back toward the cove. I stayed abreast of it the entire time, and at a distance of about 200 yards.
A bald eagle frequents this lake and I wondered why the parents would leave this baby alone with an eagle in the area. I am certain they know it is there because they live with it. I mean, they live on the lake during the spring/summer nesting season and the eagle passes by in its wide hunting runs. At one point during the little loon’s initial effort to paddle over to its parents, that eagle flew right over it, but at probably a 300 feet altitude, and it made no effort to go after the baby. I began to wonder if the parents had already thought of such a scenario and knew that this young one would be able to spot the eagle and dive before it could pick off the young loon. I do not know but suspect so. But I still could not believe that these two parent loons would leave their chick alone for such a long time. It was nearly two hours when the chick decided to make a second effort to find its parents.
What I am about to say now is quite remarkable: That young loon remembered the exact direction from which its parent had called nearly an hour before. And it again began to paddle in a straight line toward where that loon call had come from before. It remembered. If the parents were over in that cove where the seaplane was, it would require the chick to paddle ½ mile to that other side of the lake. On its way the second time, it dived twice, the first time covering an estimated 100 feet. Can you imagine being able to do that at such a young age? But again, at about the halfway point, it stopped and began to seem to loose interest. It went back to preening. At this point in time I made a decision that it was not my job to watch it. I will be back tomorrow though at 5:30 am.
TEACHING THE CHICK TO FEND FOR ITSELF
The strangest thing happened today. And it happened over and over. At least one of the parent loons would bring in the usual crayfish prey and then STOP several inches away from the outstretched youngster, in what seemed to be an apparent effort to encourage the young loon to come to the food. The adult suddenly stopped maybe 6 inches from the chick……..and would not move a bit closer….leaving the chick to close the distance. Up until today, the parents constantly captured the food and presented it right to the youngster’s bill. I remember in the cove that holds the seaplane, on that chilly, overcast day, how the parents persisted at presenting the crayfish to a baby that clearly did not want much to do with the crayfish.
And why do the parents bring the chick a diet of what seems to be exclusively crayfish? I do not believe I have seen a single minnow in the last ???? outings.
AUGUST 10, 2016: Arrived at about 5:45 am. The sun is rising noticeably later now. It is chilly too. I headed to the cove on the left side of the lake (headed north) and they were not there. Before I got there, while I was still out in the openness of the lake, I used my telephoto lens to scan shorelines on each side of the lake and as far as I could see…..nothing! I began to worry because yesterday the parents just flew off, leaving the chick alone in that cove where it had gotten all it wanted to eat. I now wondered if the eagle had gotten the chick and the parents had left the lake. There was no loon calling. I started up that left side of the lake, planning to go all the way to the top and then head down (south) the right side of the lake and back to the cove that ends in the slough. That is exactly where the ramp is. I did not go without first assessing in my mind whether the new sealed deep-cycle battery I had just bought would complete that long circuit. After some thought I felt quite confident that it would make it and then some. And even if it did not, I had paddled a lot longer than that, and up rivers after floating down them. But that was many years ago. I always carry a paddle for such things. Eventually you need the paddle. It is only a matter of time.
In all but one of my outings, when I arrive and start my excursion, the waters are alway placid becasuse I start so early in the morning. As I motored up the left side I came onto this small, shallow cove I could see the glassy surface littered with scores of breast feathers from a bird that had obviously fallen prey to something. When you see a bunch of breast feathers it is always because the bird was killed and ripped apart by a predator. There is no other reason for a bunch of breast feathers. Now I was genuinely heartsick. The scenario in my mind was very real: The eagle probably circled back to check for that chick and dived from behind it, skimming the surface and nailing it without it ever seeing its approach. I gathered some breast feathers and even pondered having DNA tests done on them to determine if they were from a loon. But you know that that would be super expensive. I inspected the markings and colors of the breast feathers before stuffing them into my breast pocket. I blamed myself as my eyes now frantically searched and searched for some loon action. Loons are very easy to see on the surface of placid waters from great distances. I would say it is easy to see them with a telepoto lens for a half mile or more away….but only on placid waters. No loons….no loon calling. I was heartsick. I wondered if this could actually have happened. I reached the top of the lake and began to make the clockwise arch over to the right side to head southward. I stayed on this plan for about 3/4 of a mile. The next big possibility…and one of the last possiblities, was the big cove where the seaplane was moored. But something made me cross back over the left side of the lake and retrace my steps back to those feathers. It was mildly blowing now out of the south and getting noticeably cloudly. A front was moving it.
We needed rain in a very big way. We are in a drought and some sustained rain would be greatly beneficial. When I say sustained rain I am talking about a couple of days of moderate to moderately heavy, steady rain. That is what recharges the soil after a long dry period…nothing less. I suspose a few hours of light rain does have its benefits. But if you really want to get an idea of just how much rain is needed you need to take a quick look at the soil horizon after a rain or after a long watering. Take a spade, shove it into the ground and pry open a sleeve of soil, so exposing the soil horizon for a depth of up to about 1 foot. You will be shocked at how little penetration occurs after an hour or two of rain. Depending on the several factor, especially compaction, that 2 hours of water penetrates to less than 1 inch depth.
So I began thinking about nature on the whole and tried to remove all emotions. I thought how inexorable nature is. I thought about the flow of energy through systems. That eagle needed energy too.
One-hundred percent (100%!) of the energy in all ecosystems in the world is manufactured at the base of the food web by the plants, through a process called photosynthesis, the single most important biochemical process on Earth……by far! All the food webs (you can call them energy webs too) are shaped like pyramids, where the most energy is at the bottom and energy is lost the higher you go, until you reach the apex predators, which have very little energy availble to them. So this Bald Eagle needed energy too.
But not my loon chick….please…not my loon chick. I took pictures of the tiny breast feathers, each curled on the placid water, bouyed up and unconnected to the water because of the surface tension. I wondered if this was the last phyical remains of my beloved loon chick. I was scared becaue I had yet to see or hear any evdience of loons on the lake, and my scenario was very plausible.
I kept motoring southward. And then, to my right, in a little cove that I had missed on the my trip to the north of the lake….. I saw them…silently working like beavers to fill their chick. When I approached them with such relief, such pleasure, such adoration…..they did not even stop to look at me. I was eleated and very, very thankful. I did try to photograph them but the wind was blowing and my canoe is like a sail, even in a mild breeze. It will not remain still without constant attention from me, and I cannot photograph and control the canoe at once. I tried the new small anchor I had recently bought. Nope. I have to work on this too. Everything is in evolution. Necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing works right the first time…unless you buy it. If I am going to contrive something…it always requires evolution and the requires persistence.
AND WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF LOUD HUMAN VOICES ON LOONS?
August 12, 2016 (loon chick is 44 days of age now):
Did not put in until after 6:30 am, but the Sun has still not yet reached the west shore, as it had on all previous outings, April through July…by about 6 am.
This was the most exciting day in my loon study.
LOONS ARE HIGHLY TERRITORIAL: On the water surface, loons extend their necks as much as possible to gain as high a perspective as possible in order to see as far as possible across the lake. Loons have outstanding long-distant vision. Apparently this and their hearing are the two principle senses for long-distant detection. And considering that loons live their entire lives in vastly open spaces, it is vital that they are able to detect at long distances. They are very, very good at it. My loons often go into an alert mode and I have no idea what they have detected. I am not at all aware of any change around us. It is amazing and exciting to watch them suddenly detect something at a great distance. More on this later.
In my years as a Wildlife Biologist I had to live with second opinions, refereed journals and material that was simply far too technical and too publish-oriented. In the end, there is a ton of material put out there that is driven by ego. And it is often the case the “if I did not discover it then it is not true or it is not right or good enough”. Well, this is my study. This time I am not working for any wildlife agency that has a stake in what I write. This time I do not have a supervisor who has me pass this manuscript on to a phantom editor so that it comes back covered in red ink and I have to re-write it. I may make grammatical mistakes and I even may make mistakes on my interpretation of what I saw…..but the latter is very unlikely. I have been out in nature….my entire life and I will continue to do so until the day I die. Now to what I observed today, the most exciting day in my loon observations. It was a crazy morning !
These parents have left their chick with me many times, while they go off to drive away a cormorant or other loon that has ventured into their territory.
Today a Double-breasted Cormorant landed within several hundred feet of this pair of loons. It was only a matter of seconds before they spotted it. They both rushed toward it, driving it into a dive and underwater. The loons stayed fairly close to the surface and that is where they raised Holy Hell in their effort to drive out that Cormorant. The loons would raise their bodies as far up as possible with a body posture that to me looks like the danc eof the …..loon, and drive their bodies down into the lake, using the feet and wings to cause as great a turbulence as they possibly could on the surface. In the end, they both dived and all I could see were tiny bubbble on the surface, from the commotion below. It worked, and it only required a few seconds. The DC Cormorant surfaced and took to the air in a northerly direction, out of the area.
It is called the Penguin dance.
Within seconds, the DC Cormorant was leaving the area. Here it is headed toward the north end of the lake. I believe the loon took off make sure it was not even up at that end of the lake. But I was not able to verify this.
As is often the case, I was in the wrong position to take photographic advantage of most of their actions when they attacked the Cormorant. But I did capture some of the action toward the end of the encounter.
THE LONE LOON
Also this morning, a single adult loon landed several hundred feet away from my family of 3 loons. I could see the two parents extending their necks up as far as possible and searching the distant surface of the lake. One of the parents flew a short distance toward the lone loon and confronted it in a non-aggressive manner; it simply flew a short distance to it and landed near it. For more than several minutes it appeared that they were actually greeting this lone loon. The pair of parents actually began to get close to the lone loon and the three of them slowly began to move in a tight circle, apparently enjoying what appeareed to be a possible re-union. I wondered if this bird might b e one of their offspring from previous nesting seasons. And during this slow, close encounter where all three moved in a cicular pattern, I could not keep track of who was the pair and who was the loner. After more than several minutes they dis-engaged the lone loon and came back to the chick.
Then they left the lone loon and went back to the chick.
ESCORTING THE LONE LOON OUT OF THEIR TERRITORY
After several more minutes they re-engaged the lone loon and something very peculiar began to happen. This time it gradually became clear to me that the two parents wanted that lone loon out of their territory. It was too close for them. And what even more interesting is the the lone loon showed some territorial display to me after looking directly at me. But the two parents had grown accustomed to me and have not shown territorial distplay toward me in weeks. slowly escort the lone loon to the north. Then they actually began to slowly escort the lone loon to the north and away from the their chick and what they perceived as their territory. It was bizarre! They did not show any aggession toward the lone loon, but they certainly, surely were making sure that this bird left the area. I stayed abreast of the trio for up to 300 yards. So much happened that morning that I am not quite clear on what happened next.
FIRST IMAGES OF LOON TAKING TO FLIGHT
Probably the high point for me today was when an adult suddenly took to flight. I can now tell when a loon is about to rear up, spread its wings and rapidly flap them. But I still cannot tell when a loon has decided to take off from the water and is about to make its initial move. I just do not recognize any cues, whereas with the wing flapping as a territorial display I am able to see it coming just before the bird does rears up and does it. But today, I was enough prepared to capture several sharp images after one of my loon pair took to flight. albeit away from me.
HEADED OUT FOR PATROL: These are two images are of the same sequence of a loon that is taking off to fly around the lake in order to patrol what it considers to be its rightful territory. It has just violently driven off a Double-crested Cormorant and also peacefully escorted away another single adult loon that may have been one of its offspring from previous years. Either way, this loon is taking to flight to patrol its territory. I believe it wants to make sure that that cormorant is gone from the lake. Here, the loon is heading south to inspect the southern tip of the lake but will soon turn, gain altitude and head north for about 3 miles to the northern tip of the lake. It retured within minutes, re-joining its mate and continuing to feed their chick.
In the bottom image I think you gain an idea on why these loons, in favorable winds, are sometimes able to cruise at 90 miles per hour. The streamlining of the body and the shape of the wings that allow such speeds.
In a southerly direction, it fought with its feet and flapped its wings to gain the bouyancy in the air, and it was gone. I lost sight of it far down the lake where it narrows to go into the slough. But then less than a minute later I noticed a loon high above and headed north. I was able to gain a few more images of a flying loon. Then I noticed that the pair had joined each other in the air as they both headed north. They were making certain that the two intruders were gone for the day. I began to slowly electric-motor northward too, suspecting that they might land up there with either the other loon or the cormorant. It took me most of ½ hour to reach point in the northern center of the lake where I could see well enough to determine that no loons or cormorants were on the most northern surface of the still placid waters. I turned and headed back to where the chick was, again requiring quite some time to reach a point where I finally spotted the chick again….with its parents in attendance. So in much of the time that I had spent traveling northward and back, the three of them had been back together and the parents had already been resuming the task of raising the chick. Loons do not waste any time. No wildlife species do.
August 15, 2016:
EEL FALLS PREY TO THE COMMON LOON: LIVING HELL!
Most predators will put whatever energy is needed into killing their prey as quickly as possible. I am sure that this adult loon was killing this eel as quickly as it could. Or maybe not. Was it maiming it only, so that the chick would have the experience of learning to kill its prey? Of course, I cannot determine either.
On two different dates I have seen one of the parents tackle an American Eel. It first happened on ……. (chick age). and again on (chick age then)…….
Both eels were probably no longer than 18 inches and probably considerably shorter. Both proved to be extremely tenacious prey that simply refused to die. I cannot imagine any other animal but the American Eel that could be this tough to kill, that fought so determinedly for its life. The eel had no way to fight back, only being able to defend itself. There is a difference. With one, the prey is capable of inflicting wounds on the predator, even killing it; in the other, the predator is safe, and simply has an extremely difficult task of subduing the prey. The eel and loon fall in the latter. The eel has no chance.
In both attacks the eels fought for their lives over a very long period of time and yet still lost the battle.
I had just arrived where the loons were feeding on the water. The very first thing I noticed was one of the parents was “working over” a prey animal that was just under the water surface.
The parent loons do this if they know that the chick is going to have problems ingesting the prey item.
I looked at the metadata of that first image and subtracted the time it was recorded from the time on the image taken just after the chick was presented the eel to ingest. It was ten minutes exactly. I can tell you that it was ten minutes of pure hell for that American eel.
The adult loon was obviously mashing the eel between its bills so that the eel to kill it or to maim it to the extent that it could not escape.
I have to say that I feel great pity for any American Eel of substantial size that the Common Loon decides to attack. It is living hell and in the end….the eel always is eventually still swallowed alive.
To me, all birds are feathered dinosaurs. Explain this bobby!
Very long battle between adult loon and eel…just refer to the times on the images. (much elaboration on this Bobby!)
violent at the outset. Catch, getaway, crush, over and over and over;
Chick following the adult as it persisted for at least 20 minutes to subdue the eel
When the eel had reached the point that it could not fight anymore, the adult loon dropped the eel in front of the chick. The chick grabbed it immediately and then began its siege of the eel. At least twice the eel escaped the youngster. The chick tried repeatedly to swallow it. All the time I am struggling to get in position to photograph the drama.
And then the disgusting, pitiful sight of the eel bulging the chicks neck out as it struggled to get out…..it was still alive!!
August 15, 2016, 47 days of age
Loon wailing for mate
.…This wailing occured roughly once every 1/2 hour, for the 1.5 hours I was there and I heard it wail for its mate repeatedly as I was leaving the pond. I will go back this evening and check. LATER: I went back that evening before sunset and its mate had returned.
It seems to me that the Loon Preservation Committee is the most accurate and comprehensive of loon references that may be found on the web. I love it!
It is August 20, 2016 and I have been down with what is apparently an influenza virus for about the last 5 days. If I do not recover soon I do not know what I will do. It is tough when you live alone and you get sick……very tough.
August 23 Tuesday, 2016: Arrived rather late for me. The sun is rising much later than during the peak of the summer. I think that I did not get on the water until after 6:30am. Mornings are cool now. I still arrived by the time the sun had only flooded the opposite shore. Tomorrow I want to be at the ramp just when the sun is touching the tops of the trees on the opposite shore.
I headed for the SW corner again; it is the side of the lake that they favor, this surely because it receives the first direct sunlight. As has become the custom, I hurry northward, favoring the SW corner and avoiding that one or two early morning rowers, who need that center lane of the lake open for their entire runs from one end of the lake to the other and back. Upon spotting the loons I dramatically decrease the throttle, so as to minimize my disturbance of the loons.
ELECTRIC OUTBOARD MOTORING: Sound is NOT to be even considered a factor in disturbing these loons or any other wildlife on the lake. And this is one exciting thing about stored electicity and the electric outboard motors, the other being that there is absolutely no mess or even a slight possibility of pollution. I absolutely love electric outboard motoring!
I reduce the speed to almost zero. They know I am approaching. All I have to do now is show constraint. And I do.
I see the two adults and I also see what seems to be their youngster. But it does not look quite what I thought it should look like. It has been a while since I have been here but the youngster should still look much like a very underdeveloped, juvenile loon, which does not have any of its adult plumage. But as I draw near it is becoming clearer that the loon I thought was the youngster is another adult. There are three adults! What is going on?
My scanning does not see anything that leads me to believe that the young loon is within the limits of my vision. It is gone!
Then I realize that the three adults are frantically searching for the youngster. There is no doubt that this is what is happening. They look underwater and then all dive in the same spot and at about the same time. As the first few minutes pass I wait for their youngster to surface. I know that it was developed enough that it can dive for the same periods of time the adults can. But I have not witnessed any of the three dive for more than a minute and one-half, and the average dive is 50 seconds in length. Three frantic adult loons left the surface at almost the same instant and I had been watching their behavior for several minutes before they dived. So if the juvenile loon is stuck underwater, it is dead. Wait, there is no way any loon is going to get hooked up on anything underwater…or is there. There is no predator under there that can harm the loon. That I know. What is going on? The pop to the surface and each of them frantically loon across the surface in all directions. They are looking for the young loon. They cannot find it and I cannot see it anywhere.
FROM THE RECORDING: When I arrived, one loon came flying in. And I thought I saw the juvenile come on the surface from the seaplane cove toward the adults. My eyes were wrong. It was another adult, possibly the same one that had visited them the other day. All their necks were craned up high, as they searched the surface of the lake, at as great a distance as their vision would allow. They were frantic.
THE ONLY GOOD NEWS I PERCEIVED OUT OF WHAT I WITNESSED THIS MORNING IS THAT THE YOUNGSTER MUST HAVE JUST DISAPPEARED. THIS I ATTRIBUTE TO THE THREE ADULTS BEING FRANTIC. OR COULD I BE WRONG; i.e. they could simply be resuming a search that they stopped the night before because of darkness.
The three would get together, just as they did the last time they were together. They would form a tight circle, looking at each other. And then they would begin searching.
They frantically searched for the juvenile loon.
EAGLES AGAIN: During the early part of the process I spotted what looked like a pair of Bald Eagles headed south, from the top of the lake. They were due to pass right over me. In just the few seconds that were available, I prepared the camera for this action. It was a pair of immature Bald Eagles. They acted unlike an adult in this geographical area. The adults in the area make an effort to avoid humans in the flights. These two came directly over me and seemingly ignorant of my presence. Of course we both know that there is no way an eagle cannot see you. They simply have not learned whatever it is that their parents have learned. This pair comes from one of two nests in the area within 20 miles of here. And they surely are from the same nest. They are siblings. They flew right over me and into a stand of exceptionally tall Eastern White Pines. As they approached their landing, they playfully tagged each other just before each picking a branch to land on. And I captured images of each, alone, and regret that I could not capture the two together in one frame. All of the several eagles that pass through here in their daily circuit, will always land on one of two stand of veteran Eastern White Pines. The entire lake’s shoreline is covered with mature EWP’s. But there are two small stands of particularly tall stature. And these two stands are the ones the eagles choose to stop on most often. It is from here that they peruse the surface of the lake. And that is the reason they choose them. Eagles always choose the highest points from which to observe opportunities. Eagles are not particularly skilled predators, but they are highly skilled thieves and opportunists. Ospreys hate eagles because the ospreys are highly skilled fishing birds and they do the work and then the eagles make an effort to bully them and steal their fish.
One of these EWP stands is at the seaplane cove and the other is diagonally across from it, at the point between the neck and the SW cove. And today, it was at the base of this stand that spotted a family of deer coming out of the woods. The traveled single file along the shore and to the point. There were two adults, most surely the matriarch doe, her oldest daughter and then there were two fawns. From several hundred yards they could not
I wondered if an Eagle had picked up that chick and carried it off. It is highly conceivable that an eagle would be able to drop down to just above the surface and take out a juvenile loon from behind. It is now 6:30 pm and that scenario is exactly what I fear. But, the last time the youngster disappeared I feared the same demise. I will be back there tomorrow morning, only this time earlier.
After the eagles passed I redirected my attention to the three loons. And what was the relationship of that third loon to the parents?
The way we determine this is by capturing the individual wild animal, marking with a unique number and releasing it back into the wild. In the case of birds this mark or tag is an aluminum band (called a ring in Europe) attached around the leg. If over a few years, enough animals can be captured and banded, then there exists the possibility that much information can be gained through recapturing. A surer way to determine relationships of these animals is by drawing blood samples to determine DNA.
This morning the search continues for the youngster. The trio would briefly regroup and then disperse, as a pair and a single adult went separate ways searching for this pair’s only young-of-the-year.
They searched over toward the seaplane cove, seeming to me that this may have been the last place they saw the young loon. Then they began paddling single file, toward the north end of the lake. It would take several hours to get there by paddling only. Apparently the two front loons got way ahead of the loon in the rear. At one point the rear loon took to flight, toward the north. And again, I still cannot see anything that indicates to me that an adult loon is about to take to flight. As I again missed my opportunity to capture a loon just at the moment it takes to flight, I was relieved that it only flew along the surface and only for a distance of about 50 yards. I hurried to try to get abreast of it and still to stay at a distance that would not effect its behavior….about 75 feet I thought. So it caught up to the faster paddling pair but then it apparently fell behind again. So it took to flight again. By now I had gained so that I was barely in front of it. But again, I could not detect that it was about to fly. This bird did these short flights three times. After the third time I was able to get somewhat ahead of it in anticipation of it taking to flight a fourth time. But as loons always do to me, it turned and headed back in the direction we came from…to the south. Then it took to flight and this time I gained altitude. I know what it was doing this time from what a loon did the other day when it wanted to avoid heading toward me as it began its flight, but still wanted to head to the north end. This loon headed toward the ramp, and made a wide loop to the right, passing over my head, but at the usual high altitude of probably 200 feet. I was able to maintain visual contact with this loon as it made it all the way to the very top of the lake. And it did exactly what I thought it would do. It made a very wide loop at the top, from right to left and then headed back down the center of the lake and passed over me at about 200 feet altitude. I did not see it land.
All three contined to search where we were in the southern end of the lake. Then the couple both took off for the north end of the lake. They did not come back within a few minutes, so I started motoring to the north. It took me 1.5 hours to go up to the top and back to the point I left. When I never saw a loon. And I was startled by not seeing one upon my return. I fear the worse.
It takes those loons less than 5 minutes to fly to the top of the lake and return and land down at the bottom.
I did see a loon land today. They land on their breast, not using their feet at all to brake the landing. They simply slide over the surface until they come to stop.
I fear what I will see tomorrow, but can still maintain a little hope for the best.
AUGUST 31 (as always, I have a folder of images of this day. This folder is of the Beach day, as it is along a stretch where people have removed all vegetation so that there is a long stretch of nothing but sand and widely spaced trees.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2016: (see the folder of the GBH and ducks….taken with the 200-500 rental….just a couple of loon shots) It is overcast today. I did not get in the water and electic-motoring toward the loons until at least 9 am. To my surprise, they toward the south end of the lake, nearly at the bottom cove, on the west side. But also, there were people waterskiing and two jet skiis. I wanted to get some shots because I was trying out a rental lens today. But I learned a lesson. If I want to shoot the loons, the only time to do it is very early in weekday morning. And I do mean very early.
There are several big advantages to getting there very, very early:
1. FEEDING: They are busy feeding their developing youngster. By the time I got there today, they were done feeding and had turned to preening and relaxing. When they are feeding the young one, they are focusing on this so intensely that they are not as concerned so much with my presence…..once I have done my very gradual approach and they realize that I am not a threat.
At this time, I feel confident that these loons do NOT recognize me individually or my canoe. Of course, they have become positively conditioned to all humans. The reason I feel they do not recognize me individually is because when I approach the area that they are feeding the chick, it is obvious that the chick does not recognize me, as it turns its back to me and paddles away….always. But after I have very gradually approached them to within a working distance for me, and I begin shooting their feeding activity, the chick becomes almost oblivious to my presence and actually sometimes snoozes. I have several shots of it taking a nap after feeding, while I am within working distance of it and have been for some time. But it never remembers me when I return….or at least it is not an experience it wants to go through again.
2. PEACE AND QUIET: The waterskiers and jet boaters do not get out on the lake until later….say about 8:30 at the earliest and usually later.
3. BALD EAGLES: The first thing in the morning I am very likely to see one adult or one or two immature Bald Eagles. That is because these eagles make the same rounds every day to the various lakes and rivers and they do it in the same order each day. I have seen the Bald Eagles enough on this basin to know that they appear on the very first segment of my early morning arrival. I will be on the lake tomorrow, September 9, by 6 am. I am nearing the last day I will be able to go to the lake this year. So I need to take advantage of this. Tomorrow, September 9 may be my last, best outing.
Also, one of the adult loons is hoarse. When it calls, it is unable to make the typical sound a loon makes At some point the two adults suddenly begin calling. It is an excited call. I do not think I have it recorded. At that point
NOTES FOR LOON ARTICLE, probably only for September 13, 2016
Entered the water when the sun had just reached the base of the Red Maple swamp on the opposite shore.
Began electric-motoring northward and expected to spot the loons somewhere along the west side of the southern sections of the basin. Used the binocular to scan the west side as I progressed northward and I scanned as far easterly as I could see. The binocular is a huge advantage over naked eyes, and even a great advantage over the supertelephoto lens. There was a possibility the loons were in the seaplane cove but I thought that to be unlikely. I think when I go back in the notes I will see that they favor the west side of the lake when feeding in the morning. I can only guess that it is because this side gets the sun first. I motored along the west side to almost 400 yards from the northern end of the lake. At that point I felt I could see the entire northern perimeter of the basin. No loons. So, I am now thinking that the loons are tucked in close to the beach shoreline or possibly down at the large and deep seaplane cove. I began to gradually cut across the lake to the east and it was shortly thereafter that I spotted an adult loon. Then I saw the chick.
There are a couple of takeaways from this outing.
ADULTS LOSING BREEDING PLUMAGE
Adults are losing the physical attributes they have only during the breeding season. The eyes are no longer a bright, ruby red, but have faded to a darker red, almost so that I can no longer see any red.
The plumage is beginning to change. To my eyes, this first appears as what looks like a grizzled white area under the base of the bill, much the same as the gray to white whiskers on an old dog.
CHICK FEEDING ITSELF
It appears that the chick is feeding itself. I did not see the parent give it any food, but I also have not seen it surface with any prey is may have caught. I timed the chick dives and they go as long as 58 seconds. The average is 47 seconds. The chick has much more mobility, though it cannot yet fly. This means that photographing the feeding sessions is much more difficult. Before now, I could mingle around the chick at a distance that had minimal negative effect on it. The best day was when, toward the end of the feeding session, it took naps short distances from me. Now, I am lucky if I can get anywhere near enough it to fill much of the frame with my 500mm.
There was just one adult with the chick today. It spent a large part of the time looking for its mate, which did not respond during the time I was on the lake. It wailed only once, but it was constantly scanning the lake, looking as far as it would see. After about 1.5 hours it focused along the east side, north of the beach area. At one point, I heard a loon calling back from a great distance and I was able to quickly visually locate it. I admit that I am assuming that this was its mate. I watched the adult that was doing the searching and it did not see that adult loon, even though I could see it at that long distance.
At one point the chick and adult partially submerged, employing the same evasive maneuver used when an adult loon is trying to look inconspicuous or trying to sneak by me as it paddles to where its mate is sitting on the nest. At the time of this writing, I cannot recall if the adult let out a warning call. I thought the adult might have just spotted an eagle. But I could not turn around to look down into the veteran White Pines that the eagle usually uses as a vantage point. When in a canoe seat, my lateral vision is limited by not much more than the range I can rotate my head, lest I lose equilibrium.
I arrived at the water just as the Sun was touching the tops of the Red Maples in the swamp across the cove. That may be the earliest I have arrived. (you have a couple of images of this, taken with the 18-200 DX. (They are inside images/images plus/raw…./Sep 16, 2016). It was foggy.
I saw what I thought was a loon just off the entrance to the lake. After prepping the canoe, I headed out and was immediately confronted with some violent was up ahead, that usually indicates the loons are onto a larger fish that they really want. For whatever reason, they cause a massive surface disturbance (that is in a straight line) as they chase the fish. I had already prepped my camera and was ready with a very high ISO setting….probably about 4000. Then, a Double-crested Cormorant popped up with a fish at the disturbance. It very quickly raised its head with a fish.
It turned out to be a large Alewife. There are resident Alewives here; i.e. fish that do not leave the lake and migrate back to the ocean after spawning here. I have learned there are thousands of them that run in the slough that connects the lake basin to the pond of my boyhood. This Cormorant was catching this Alewife right at the confluence of the slough with the lake’s lowest cove.
Cormorants have just about the same niche as Common Loons and this is the reason that the Loons will violently run them off if they catch one of them in their territory; i.e. they have almost identical diets and both are extremely efficient fishing birds. There are a couple of differences though. Cormorants will chase fish into shallower water than the Common loon will. And the Cormorant’s swallowing process is definitely different than the Loon’s. The DCC simply raises its head straight up and it appears to me that it is its ability to open its bill and maybe esophagus so widely that allows it to very quickly swallow larger fish that the Common Loon and with less struggle. This was a very large Alewife, well over 12 inches in length. I have yet to the Common Loon even attempt to tackle a fish of that size. I do not think that they can. They can swallow eels that are that long, but eels have very slender, snakeline bodies. What’s more, with the DCC, the large Alewife just slid down its esophagus very quickly. I wondered, even if the DCC has such a large opening for fish, still, why is there almost no struggle?
I could see I would have to hang back for a short time before the fog lifted enough for me to see enough of the lake to begin searching for the loons. Then as I left the lower cove and entered the lake, I spotted one loon just a couple of hundred yards to the north and still in the lower bay. During this time I was also fidgetting with the video and taking some wide-angle shots of the foggy sunrise. After losing sight of the loon I allowed myself to be drawn toward the seaplane cove, as I thought that is about the same direction I had last seen it headed. This lake is used as practice waters a few competition rowers and we have to kind of keep an eye out for each other because I am engrossed in my loon work and they have their backs turned to the direction they are rapidly moving into with those long, lance-shaped crafts. On y way to the seaplane cove I gradually became completely consumed by fog. All around me, I could not see more than 50 feet distance from my position. I suddenly lost all confidence because I could not see or hear anything. We could easily collide in these conditions. After several minutes of very, very slowly moving in the direction I thought the seaplane was, I began to barely discern what appeared to be the grove of veteran Eastern White Pines that towered over the camp and seaplane.
JUNIOR LAYED A PENGUIN DANCE ON ME! Within a couple of minutes of my arrival, the chick violently popped up from a dive, right off my bow and then gave me a partial, 2-3 second Penguin Dance. I was focused on the parent loon and heard a voluminous, low frequency sound of erupting water almost right under my bow. It scared me! The chick instantly went into the Penguin Dance and I thought ……. Wow! So the youngster expressed its displeasure or anger with my invasion of their territory. It is not the first time it has demonstrated to me that it did not want me around ….. but it was the most intense display yet.
If I have not said this before, I should now. I am convinced that Common Loons do not want us around them, but they do tolerate us. They have become conditioned to our presence at the lakes they inhabit in their breeding season. It is only when we approach them, that they show that they are annoyed by our presence. But interestingly, it is only during the initial encounter, each day, that they show any territorial behavior. This is usually only the flapping of the wings, but today, the youngster gave me the dance that is usually reserved for the most unwanted intruders, such as a prospecting lone loon or the one bird species they perceive as competing for their fish…the Double-crested Cormorant. And I did not approach these two suddenly.
WOOD DUCKS In a previous posting I did not write enough about the these birds I encountered during my runs down to the pond……after the loon work. There are about 50 Wood Ducks that live along the slough and down as far as the pond. I find them perched on boulders and hidden among the Pickerel Weeds.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2016 (Saturday morning):
Here is the time I arrived at the carryon ramp.
It was not until just after I put the canoe in the water that I realized the wind was out of the north. I know better than this. If I had thought, I would have known the night before that it would be out of the north….blustery. The day before (Friday) it was overcast with intermittent rain and forecast to be abundant sun on the next day (today). When that happens in the fall, the wind is going to be blustery and out of the north…..always! My first clue came at the landing, as I was about to enter the canoe. I could see a small pocket of ripples to the right, up at the neck, there this lowest cove opens in the main basin. This early, around sunrise, there was only one place and direction that breeze could be coming from.
Here I need to make a point. I am in my 68th year and have been on the water since my teens. The whitecaps that you see from a distance on a body of water….. are always much much more hazardous when you get among them….always. Whitecaps are no place for any canoe, regardless of how big it is. I am convinced that the American aborigines pictured in their birchbark canoes had the same hazards we do today and were no better at dealing with them than we are today….except, they probably had the sense to stay off the lake when there were whitecaps. Also, the Indians did not have canoe seats. Canoe seats dramatically raise the center of gravity, making a canoe much more prone to capsizing in rough waters. And there is absolutely no doubt that Indians drown, just as we do today. Whitecaps and canoes spell danger.
NO LOONS DOWN BOTTOM
ALMOST TURNED AROUND
WHILE IN A CANOE, I HATE A NORTH WIND ON A LAKE: At least in the northern hemisphere, north winds are cool or cold, depending on time of year, and prone to gusting. With my canoe, I must constantly focus to keep the nose into the wind. Even a slight breeze will take complete control of this canoe, flipping it around so that it is quickly pointing to the south. Once this begins, it must be overcome almost instantly, or it is impossible to recover. Then, there is no choice but to continue in a circle until the bow is pointed back to where I wanted it to be before I lost control of it. It is very, very frustrating. No, one cannot flip it into reverse and thrust at an angle to offset the angle, so as to straighten it out. And I think the reason this does not work is because the motor is sidemounted, not on the transom. Although I am not sure of this. So in a wind…. it is a constant challenge to keep control of this craft. And in a north wind, a canoe is much more hazardous. As the swells build, the intensity of the rocking increases and becomes less predictable. You really have to pay much closer attention, especially to freeboard. If that lake water reaches the gunwhale and starts to “peel” over the crest of the gunwhale….you are going to swamp. I know.
I have done it before with Diana in Florida, in the Intercoastal waterway. We swamped suddenly, and then flipped over. The image is forever imbedded of looking at her, the canoe and upsidedown, with all the gear sinking to the bottom. That swamping is probably why I have not heard from her since. She had such high hopes for me as a outdoorsman coming from Maine. And that is the only time I have been in a canoe that swamped. The rest is a long story and not for here.
They say that keeping it into the wind is not nearly as difficult in a kayak, simply because there is not as much freeboard to act as a sail. But a kayak would probably not be a practical choice for me. It does not carry nearly the payload. Sure I can reduce the amount of equipment I need with me on each outing…..but not by a lot. At this point I do not think a kayak is a practical choice for me, but this canoe is too big, way too big.
EARLY FALL NORTH WIND GOOD FOR ONE THING ONLY:
Today, the chick was acting particularly frisky. It was flapping its wings more frequently and for longer periods of time. Then I saw why.
It took me completely by surprise! Turning into the north, the chick suddenly began running in the water and flapping as vigorously as it possibly could. It “ran” northward, through the water while flapping its wings as violently as it possibly could. And it sustained this for quite a distance….probably 100 yards. It was trying with all its heart, with all its might….to fly. And the parent that accompanied it this morning was abreast of it over the entire distance…… and doing the same thing. It was just as you did for your kid’s first bike ride…..same thing. Acquiring autofocus, I tommygunned the camera as the chick ran and flapped away from me. I was able to get a few shots of this.
But again, capturing a loon taking to flight toward me is something I have not yet even been able to envision how to do….until today. I have an idea.
September 24, 2016: This is the date I have as the title in one of my audio recordings. I may have the date wrong by one day. Here is the characterization of the recording: Today, the wind on the lake is gusting to 25 miles per hour. It is cold out here. Back in 1983, my right index finger was damaged from a Cottonmouth bite in the Everglades. When it is cold, this finger is the first one to give pain. And it happens to be my shutter button finger. At 9:30 I make the decision to get off the lake. The loon chick has tried to get off on its first flight and it failed. My voice recording at the time I was leaving the lake has this:
“There is only one thing that the first cold north wind of the Autumn is good for on a lake. It is a very strong wind and so when it arrives, it gives the young loon its first chance to get off the water, and into its maiden flight.”
The chick was not able to fly this morning, but it was going to fly any hour to any day. Perhaps this afternoon or perhaps tomorrow (Sunday). I never visit the loons on a Sunday, but I will tomorrow.
It had been about 3 hours since I entered the lake and my fingers were actually beginning to ache from the chilly, gusty wind. It had reached the point where I could not operate the shutter release button anymore, because I could not sense it with touch. That finger had been bitten by a Cottonmouth decades before and had never fully recovered. If you are ever bitten by any of North America’s hemotoxic crotalids, you will most likely survive, but your appendage will be maimed for life.
SEPTEMBER 25, 2016, (SUNDAY):
Met a Mike M. at the carryon. He told me that he has a place at the top of the lake and that there is another pair of loons up there. The closest I have been to the north end of the lake is probably about 400 yards or maybe 1/3 mile.
I was very surprised by this information….and pleased. This explained much (or all) of the mystery involving the encounters that “my” loon pair, in the south end of the lake has been having with loons that just “appear” to them. After listening to Mike I thought back to all those encounters and realized that they all occur in the middle of the lake…..all of them! So, one of the members of the northern pair comes down toward the south, encountering my pair in the middle of the lake and mingles with them. It is never a warm encounter. My pair always escorts the visitor/intruder back to the north. And in one case, my pair became aggressive, both of them going into a penguin dance.
I remember on one day I followed with binoculars as one my loons flew all the way to the northern end of the lake and from about 300 feet high, made a wide arch, covering the entire north shore, and returned its mate and the chick. I kept the binoculars on this loon as it returned south and I believe this is the shot I have of an adult loon landing on the water. Photographing these birds, just like photographing any animal, requires preparation which always leads to anticipation, as I expect a certain thing to happen. I knew this bird was going to return to its mate and its chick. I also knew it would not land in front of me if I was too close the them. So I backed away from the scene, allowing it to feel comfortable with landing very near its family.
October 4, 2016: Today was a somber day…a day of selfish sadness for me.
And I met a group of duckhunters leaving, just as I was arriving. There were almost no ducks this morning in the lower cove. This was due to the duckhunters OR the ducks may have started south. I am sure that the duck hunters blasted a few ducks in that cove. There were ducks in the main lake. There were also none in the first cove that is on the bottom left side of the lake.
The entire basin is quiet. Leaves are turning and many organisms are living their last days. There are some dead moths on surface. I encountered one dragonfly in the air and I also encounted a pair of dragonflies mating!I also motored to the dam. There were less than 20 ducks I pushed up in the slough about half way to the dam.
The loons are gone to the ocean. I am very saddened and yet, happy for the chick. It made it.
I could see it was trying to get off the water last time there. On that last day, the wind was out of the north and gusting to probably in excess of 20 miles per hour.
Wintering Loons: It was on Christmas Day 2017 that began photographing wintering loons in this northern latitude and am looking forward to developing a story on the winter life on a North Atlantic Estuary. The following is a piece that I imported today (Feb 15, 2017) from the beginnings of that story.
Before swallowing a crab’s body, the crab-eating ocean birds spend considerable time removing all the crab’s sharp-pointed appendages.
After seeing this poor Common Loon’s eye injury, I now know why. The Eiders and Loons are dismembering the crabs before they swallow the crab body. Otherwise the sharp-ended appendages are likely to puncture the birds soft tissue. If that happens, an infection is likely and it could be life-threatening.
So how do these waterbirds remove the crabs legs? You or I could hold the crab with one hand and twist off the legs with the other hand. The waterbirds cannot do this. They grasp the tip of the appendage with their bill and then, relying on the crab’s body mass, they violently shake the crab until the leg breaks away. Then they have to re-immerse at least their head again, in order to re-capture the crab and bring it back to the air, where they grasp another leg and repeat the violent shaking until the next leg breaks off.
These birds are taking considerable risk when we consider how close the bird’s eyes are to its bill, how many legs it has to remove and how many crabs it captures and dismembers in a single day.
Although I have yet to attempt to see under the water while I observe these birds, I doubt the crab makes much progress at reaching the bottom, from which the bird captured it. I do no think that crabs swim, rather, using their legs, they creep along the bottom. I had wondered why they shook the crab so much and why they took so long before swallowing the crab.
How many pointed appendages do crabs have…..6 or 4? I forgot that from Invertebrate Biology. I assume they are able to remove only one leg each time. So it takes time to prepare the crab for swallowing.
And now, until Spring 2017:
April 17, 2017, my first entry into the journal of the Pond of my Boyhood:
All last year I struggled with the 110 pound-weight of my 18 foot-long Old Town Discovery canoe. I wanted to be ready this year with some type of watercraft that would be significantly lighter in weight and less bulky than this canoe. Just yesterday I purchased a neighbor’s old 13 foot Square Bear canoe for $300. I was certain this would be the answer to my long search for the perfect watercraft for my work. I was wrong. One short test drive is all it takes and I am certain that this is not the watercraft I want. It does not track well. At least not without modification. It is mine now and at a good price.
The hulls on these Bear canoes are exceptionally well-design and well-built. There are cross “straps” of reinforcing fiberglass, assuring that there is absolutely no flex in this Square Bear. The Bear canoe company put a lot of extra effort into making an extraordinary watercraft.
I believe these Square Bears are in high demand and I am certain I will be able to sell this one very quickly. UPDATE: I will keep this hull and ponder how I will modify the craft to make a vehicle I will enjoy in my work.
Tracking: So I had forgotten a basic tenet of small watercrafting:
A canoe or kayak’s ability to stay on course (called tracking) is directly related to its length. Short watercraft have an inherent tendency to go off course much faster, quicker, than a longer small watercraft….and it is ever prevalent.
This Square Bear is nearly 5 feet shorter than my 18 foot Discovery and much wider (about 40+ inches vs 32). I found that I had to pay much closer attention to its direction as it would quickly turn one way or the other and require me to re-adjust the steering. This tendency to go off course cannot be corrected by tightening the collar on the electric motor’s shaft collar
There is not much evidence of life at the pond in mid-April 2017. I put in at the carry-on ramp and electric-motored southward to the pond and dam. It was a mildly overcast day, and along the way to the dam I occasionally heard the twillings of that very first of spring harbingers, the Spring Peeper.
Then I encountered two Black Ducks that had no tolerance of my presence and soon were quacking incessantly, probably for me to leave the area or maybe as a warning of my arrival, to other ducks that might be on these waters. They took off, flew southward and then wisely turned and crossed over to the heath to the first cove on the left. There, it was much less likely that I would cross paths with them again. I should say that I doubt these ducks made a conscious decision to cross the heath and into this more out-of-the-way cove. But of course there is no way for me to know. I do know that most all other ducks in the past have flown down to the slough toward the pond, landed somewhere along the way, and been pushed up by me again later, maybe several times. I think I may have noted that among the smaller group of waterbirds I encounter here, the Great Blue Heron seems to be the most oblivious to habit. Once pushed up, it never doubles back around me toward the lake, but always chooses to go further southward toward the dam and then finally, only after I reach the dam to push it up one more time, does it catch on and head back northward toward the lake. It is from this that I have arrived at the conclusion that Great Blue Herons are stupid.
It was not until I was reaching the last turn before the pond (the second point), that I saw two Eastern Painted Turtles taking in what little radient energy there was on this overcast day. Then finally to the dam where there was no evidence of life at all.
I told myself that the loons were on the water somewhere.
I did not expect to see them on the slough, on their way to or from the pond. So I passed by the dam as closely as I dared, peered down to the outfalling brook and headed back up the lake, eager now to make an effort to find the pair. As I entered the lower body of the lake I was able to scan with naked eyes to a distance of at least 1/2 mile north. Nothing.
FIRST LOON OF 2017 SEASON: Then I saw a loon fly from the Seaplane Cove and land over to center of the lake, in front of me and about 300 yards north of me. It began making the call that loons use to find a family member. It alternated this call with dives of less than 1 minute duration. I maneuvered my canoe to a point where I was able to capture just one image of this first loon of the 2017 season.
After this image I headed for the ramp. And so I was left to wonder if this loon’s mate was actually on the pond already or if this calling is what it had been doing since ice-out, in anticipation of its mate’s return. I suspect the former…. there was another loon on the lake, its mate, and it was searching for it because it felt a sense of insecurity upon my arrival. And that would give reason for its alternating divings and callings, as I am confident it was not hunting for food during the dives. When a family member is not easily found, loons will alternate between callings and dives to locate it And you may have already learned from my notes, that a loon will sometimes leave its mate for long hours and for seemingly long distances. I imagine they do it because they can. And let’s not forget that a loon can cover a lot of distance in a short time. Remember, on inland waters in the northern hemisphere, at 90 mph top airspeed, these are the jet airliners of the waterbird world.
April 29, 2017: Overcast but comfortably warm.
Today the pair of loons came down to the lower cove. We encountered to within 50 feet. One of the pair continued to fish at perhaps up to 300 feet distance, catching an eel at one point. This loon was not fishing and not at all concerned with me. The other stayed back and observed me at the closer distance. This loon was intent on watching me in our first encounter of the season.
It is important to mention that without any macrovisible marking technique, it is impossible for me to differentiate loons and identify individuals. I do not know if this is the same pair that was here last year. But it is likely the same pair because loons are highly territorial and the males arrive at (claim) their respective inland breeding waters at the very first opportunity of open water.
When a loon is watching me and then dives, I have learned that it is crossing under my canoe to reposition itself behind me. Sure enough, it dived and I could see small remnants of a trail of tiny bubbles moving from one side of my canoe to the other. This trail of bubbles results from the air being expunged from feather’s interspaces. And again, as expected, this loon silently resurfaced behind me. IN fact, the move was stealthy enough that the only reason I ascertained the loon was there was by turning as far around with my neck as possible. And then I did not have enough range of neck movement to make direct visual contact. I could only see the bird with peripheral vision. It had surfaced in the most “behind position” it could have.
Also today I was thrilled to watch and photograph the behavior of a group of American Toads in aggregate breeding. These toads were actually excited by a weather-worn tennis ball that someone had lost while playing fetch with their water-loving dog. The toads were crazy for this tennis ball and I was able to get some video and a lot of stills of the action.
My electric motor failed catastrophically today. From the outset, I had no motor. I did paddle after it went down. That is when I encountered the loons. Later, I decided to paddle northward several hundred yards to the lake, but had to actually chase the loons to keep up. I decided to turn and head back toward the lower cove. That is when I heard the aggregate singing of the American Toads.
After returning home, I spent considerable time finding a replacement motor. I guess it has been about a week and it will be delivered today, May 5. But now the entire week is forecasted for rain. I will get out as soon as possible. And I am considering heading out in at least a light rain. We will see.
May 7, 2017: Light, intermittent rain. Decided to go because I was very anxious to test this new motor: Minn Kota Traxxis 55.
As I was preparing to launch a friend chanced by in his truck. If you youtube the video “The Definiton of Happiness” you will hear me end with the comment…”This is for you Pete.” This person is actually that Pete and the short clip documents the thrill I get whenever I approach that quiet launch area. Pete let his dog out to explore and then he and I began talking for about 1/2 hour. The conversation was between two men who have close to a century of combined experiences on the open waters….literally.
When Pete left with Bruiser (the little tyke is whimsically named) Pete made the comment that I could have made it to the other end of the lake and back if he had not showed up. I responded with “No, you did not interrupt me Pete. I did not miss a thing because the weather is going to be like this all day…right Pete?” That was an opportunity to learn from each’s experiences…invaluable. I love it!
It was intermittent rain and between absolute placidity and a light ripple. Nothing was changing today. The wind would not increase and the rain would be intermittent. Now we had chanced there on a cloudless morning it would have been different. That is because I am passionate to experience the for am
I always launch before direct sunlight reaches “1 hand” above the base of the Maple Swamp on the other side of the cove. That swamp is on the west side of the cove and so it sees the sun first.
I was anxious about this motor. Was it too much power? The motor head was significantly larger than on my now-dead Minn Kota Traxxis 45. And this 55 pounder was a few pounds heavier. Electric outboard motor power is measured in pounds, not in horsepower. Thirty pounds is probably the lowest end motor and 80 pounds is way up there.
The anxietry evaporated….. as the morning went on I became thrilled with the motor’s performance. There was one exception, which I will will mention below.
The motor was absolutly silent at its lower speeds. This enables me to approach wildlife very subtely. It is done by estimating the exact direction needed to very slowly move toward the animal while reducing the throttle to almost zero. If there is no wind at all, the canoe does more forward….and in absolute silence. I am thrilled with the quietness of these electric motors. It enables me to enjoy the wild, open waters in total peace.
Of course it is necessary for the canoe to stay on that preset course. This is accomplished by adjusting the tension on the flexible shaft, preventing the motor from freely swinging to one side of the other.
And this 55 pounder had much increased thrust when I gave it full throttle. I disovered the exciting difference this accelleration meant to me. I am now able to quickly thrust the bulk of this keeless, 18 foot canoe backwards and to the side, thereby reversing my direction much more quickly than with the 45. This new 55 has much more power. And I can cover open water about 30% faster. Yet, at lowest speeds it is absolutely silent.
Now, for the possible exception: At the highest throttle level, it has a slight vibration. I cannot yet tell if the vibration comes from the motor or the prop. If the leading edge of either of the blades on this two-blade prop is significantly nicked or roughened; i.e. not smooth, it will cause vibration at the high end. And immediately after launching, I mistakenly got into water that was too shallow and the prop chattered over some small, dead branches. I thought to myself “No problem”, because the plastic is harder than that wood that is underwater and somewhat decayed. This is not necessarilly so. I do suspect that the vibration is caused by roughness on the prop’s leading edge. After the outing I serviced the prop by making it as smooth as possible. The technique used is material for another article on Open Water Savvy.
The wind was at my back as I headed northward to the open lake in search of the loons. I thought they had to be up there. But I had been wrong many times before. As I motored northward probably 200 yards off the west side of the lower lake basin I was fooled into perceiving that the small buoys people put out were actually loons. The morning had a mild to moderate fog obscuring my ability to see at distance. I tend to want to stay in this lower basin, usually opting to not travel far to the northern ends of the lake. This is where the loons prefer to spend most of their time when raising the chick. I cannot be certain why this is true. I do know that the lower end of the lake pocesses the quality Common Loon nesting habitat.
This is usually the case because this is where the most detritus is. And the most detritus is here because of two factors, wind and the very subtle current that defines this as the “bottom” of the lake. Most or all bodies of freshwater do have a current, even though it may be very subtle. In other words, the water is moving in one direction almost all of the time. If the outlet is very small, then the current is also very minute. But it is still a current. In the northern hemisphere that movement is from north to south. This was explained in the section on Glaciation. And so suspended solids are carried southward in the waters of northern hemisphere lakes. These solids come in all manner of organic material, but overwhelmingly the solids are plant material that are somewhere in the water horizon and are carried southward by the subtle current until they eventually reach and settle on the bottom. Here they remain, forming the material we call “detritus”. This detritus gradually accumulates in the southern portions of the lakes and is the main ingredient in a process called “Succession”. In this natural process, all bodies of freshwater eventually fill in and become land. As the organics build, the substrate gains ever-increasing firmness…solidity. The plant species that favor wet areas are first to germinate and flourish here. But there are several woody plants that favor wet areas. One of the most prominent wetland trees in this region is the Red Maple (Acer rubra?). I believe it may be the very first woody tree to germinate in these relatively new areas resulting from the build up of detrius over centuries. The needed for Succession to convert the lower ends of water bodies to land is uniaginable to us.
The second environmental factor that carries detritus is wind. At least in the northern hemisphere, and with the exception of rare, violent and local summer storms, the strongest prevailing winds come out of the north. I am not a meteorologist and so do not yet know why this is. But I have lived in the northern hemisphere my entire life and know this to be true.
I observed two different Ospreys this morning. One was significantly smaller than the other. Ospreys perch on branches overlooking water bodies, perusing the waters for living fish that venture too close to the surface. Sometimes otherwise known as “Fish Hawks”, Ospreys are superbly skilled fishing birds. When spotting a fish and choosing to make the attempt at catching it, they fold their wings and drop from the branch, plunging into the water. For this footage, credit is given to the BBC, perhaps the world leader in wildlife videography/documentation.
On these darkish and wet days, wildlife still need to take in energy. This Osprey was perched on a limb, perhaps 40 feet above the water surface. The tree overhangs the slough, and almost to the tailwaters of this pond of my boyhood, almost to the dam. My objective was the pond of my boyhood. The slough is narrow enough that if I was to get by this perched Osprey, I would pass to within about 30 feet laterally from it. There was no way to give it a wider berth. So I knew that it was very likely to fly as I silently approached. Yes, it was quite aware of my approach. All wildilfe is in all situations…except when a person is in a blind (called a “hide” in Europe) or in a tree. I had the camera set and also set the approach of my canoe to extremely slow. I was ready. Still, it is very difficult to capture and hold a bird in the viewfinder, that accellerates from zero to take off speed. The strange thing was that this bird was facing away from me on the perch and it initially flew away. But then I was unable to perceive in the viewfinder that it had turned about 180 degrees and was headed directly over me. I am certain that this Osprey was actually angry with my approach and that is why it is glaring at me. It flew directly over me and back to toward the lake, from the direction I had just come.
Eagles do not possess nearly the same fishing abilities as Ospreys. Eagles and Ospreys are enemies. The Bald Eagle is an opportunist, not a specialist, as the Osprey. Combining fishing/hunting skills with the need to scavange a living, the Bald Eagle is also skilled at sometimes attacking waterbirds from the very rear or into massive flocks of staging waterbirds, thereby increasing its chance of a kill. Any waterbird, small to medium sized mammal or fish that is imperiled and near the surface is a target of the Bald Eagle.
I noted that Cormorants are more numerous at this early time in the spring, than when the Common Loons are raising their chick. In the last two outings I have seen a couple of paired Cormorants and at least two individuals. I am going to more closely observe the relationship between the two birds. And I believe one reason for the increased numbers of Cormorants is that the breeding pair of loons has not yet established a feeding territory. When they do, they will not tolerate a Cormorant within perhaps a few hundred yards of where they are fishing.
Wood Ducks heard today but not yet seen.
There is a small shorebird that is enjoying the pond. I have to identify it and remember seeing it last year.
A couple of Canada Geese:
Following originally written for a nature forum I frequent:
Oh, BTW, almost forgot…..
At the pond I frequent, I encountered a pair the other day after those first words I wrote to you. It was in a light rain.
I could hear them coming, loudly honking up the tight slough from behind my canoe. By the time I realized what was happening, they rounded the corner and about to I could not rotate around quick enough to acquire with the D500.
About 30 feet high and planning to land just about where the canoe was, they did not see my canoe until about 50 feet away and 10 feet off the water. They braked, gained some elevation, passing over me, and landed around the next corner in the slough, about 100 yards away.
I was headed that way anyway and was not turning back. The problem is getting by them. I have learned to not enjoy pushing up waterfowl for my BIF pleasure. I figure I will get my shots with time. If they are going to fly anyway, well that is their problem and I try to get ready for what I can see is about to happen. Ducks telegraph it. And as you know, it is difficult to prepare enough for the explosive action and keep the
Anyway, they did not like me there and honked and honked at me, as one of them strided toward me while the other acted like it wanted to depart. I remained stationary and let that goose calm down. After several minutes and numerous frames, it began preening and eventually walked off the sphagnum and into the slough again.
Here is the thing with so many avian species: Depending on state laws, hunting seasons do vary somewhat. But what really confuses avian species, it is that they cannot have a clue as whether or not they are fully protected (for whatever reasons) or it is open season; i.e. have no idea if we will shoot to kill or not bother them.
When they reached the next turn in the slough, it was beginning to open from a swamp to a marsh. That is where there was enough room to get by without pushing them up. They still did not like it. I pass by without making eye contact.
Encountered them up where the slough meets the lower lake basin. They still did not like me being there and told me so. I gave them wide berth.
I love that stuff.
Other species today: Mallard Ducks, Muskrat, an Eastern Phoebe or Kingbird.
May 8, 2017, Overcast, occasional sun and rain, chilly.
I was immediately somewhat disappointed to find there still exists that vibration in the electric motor. It occurs throughout the power range, except at a crawl. I suspect I may have taken the prop out of balance when I shaved off both the leading edges until they were smooth. But my concern is that it could be a defective motor. The shaft could be out of concentricity. If that is the case, the motor will have to go back. I do not think this is the case. Minn Kota is the leader of the electric outboard motor industry. I will order a new prop and also call Minn Kota to ask them about this.
My first jaunt was up to the lower bay to see if I might be able to spot a pair of loons. Today there is no fog and so my field glasses projected my eyesight far northward into the mid sections of the lake basin. Nothing.
So I immediately turned and headed southward, my objective being the lower cove, slough and then the pond of my boyhood. This is the first time I have gone from the lake to the pond and not seen a single wild animal….nothing.
I was headed back in when I decided to go back out on to the main lake again and see if I could now spot a loon.
To my surprise there were 4 loons together out there. I tried to video them but it seemed impossible. Though new to video in nature, I think I am certain that it is impossible to video moving animals from a platform that is also moving. The four swam the last 200 yards over to me, probably to do an inspection of me. When they got to within 50 feet, several of them extended their heads upward and yodeled. We then separated as they continued to make their way across that lower bay.
I was not paying close enough attention or I would have anticipated what was next. Two of them took to flight….and they had to fly right past me because I was upwind of the four. It was not until the 3rd loon took to flight that I was prepared enough to be onto it. The camera acquired focus and I got several sharply focused images of it taking off, but all were taken at 2000 ISO and so they were noisy (grainy).
Later, as I made my way back south through the lower bay and into the final cove I spotted the white and dark brown of a Bald Eagle, down into a marshy area, just off the Seaplane Cove. I suspected this eagle was on a carcass. This had potential to hold the bird’s attention/needs and I wanted some images of a Bald Eagle closer than what I might normally get. The wind has been out of the south throughout these last several overcast days. This is typical of moist weather in the spring. I was north of the Eagle and about ½ mile laterally to it. I had two options here. I could use the shoreline of the lower bay to conceal my drop-down to the seaplane cove and then go directly to the eagle. But I have learned that this does not work. Raptors have visual acuity that is believed to be 6-7 times that of man’s. There was no advantage to attempting to sneak onto that Eagle. Once I cleared the point and again into its view, it would begin to feel the anxiety of my approach.
All wild animals are constantly searching for approaching danger whenever they are feeding. When they are feeding, they are vulnerable … all of them. So I went with the second option: Rather than attempt to head directly to it from my current position (and conceal the first part of this approach) I stayed in full view of it and headed in a southward direction (with the wind). This was done tangentially, so that I arrived about ¼ mile below, and precisely downwind of the bird. Regarding the word “downwind”, this had nothing to do with scent. Yes, eagles can smell. All birds can. But I do not believe Eagles depend on any significant amount of chemoreception (sense of smell) to gain needed information from their surroundings. They rely on sight. For me, the big advantage of the second option was that I could now use the wind to control a gentle approach back toward the bird. If I was right, there would be no feeling of anxiety and it would remain occupied with whatever it was feeding on. As an animal feeds, its attention switches from the food to its surroundings as it searches for dangers.
When the eagle was comfortable with the amount of food it had ingested, it took off to a high perch in an Eastern White Pine. My first thought was to wait for it to return to the carcass, whatever it was. I motored toward the spot, and as it became increasingly shallower, I shut down the motor, pulled the head back so the prop was out and locked the shaft in place and then used the long paddle to stroke and pole my way into the muck/cattails and to the carcass. It was a partially consumed Largemouth Bass, about 4 pounds in size and it was resting on a Muskrat dome. The aft half of the body had been consumed and so it was easy to identify the bass from its head. I pushed back away from the dome, fighting to regain floatation. Then, only partially submerging the prop, I gently reversed my canoe into deeper water and back to a position that was somewhat closer to the fish….and waited. It is important to note that most people today want instant gratification; i.e. most would put the motor in reverse and open up the throttle all the way and expect to go backwards just as fast as they can go forward. That is not the way it works. The name of the game here is that patience and proper technique will get you what you want. I waited for maybe 15 mintues but was now quite cold. Also, the perched eagle was now being harrassed by a passerine bird. Any bird species I know hates/fears the Bald Eagle, or any raptor. At this point I decided to call it a day.
I headed back for the launch and could not have known that I was about to experience what would be the most emotionally fulfilling part of the outing: As I approached the bottom cove I spotted two loons working that cove for fish. This was probably the year’s mated pair, but could it also be the same couple from last year? As I slowly approached them, one of them (just as in an earlier outing) approached me while the other loon continued to dive in the distance for fish. After, it occurred to me that these two might actually be the mated pair from 2016, and it was more likely they were than not. Unlike the 4 out on the lake, these two seemed comfortable with me. They did not extend their neck or yodel. And unlike the 4 on the lake, they did not take to flight right after encountering me at closer range. I should say that the loon that approached me, also went into that low profile posture, that can only be an attempt to become invisible. More on this later.
Discuss further the eagle encounter and then the encounter with the pair of loons near your launch site.
May 9, 2017: Arrived late (7AM). Variable clouds, mostly cloudy with intermittent showers.
The Loons were in the lower cove when I arrived and literally came up to to the launch area to actually greet me. There is no way any other researcher can convince me that these loons do not recognize individuals…either people or boats. This pair of loons hung around the launch area, facing me, until fretted with the video aspect of my camera. Clearly, these loons were anticipating my arrival in a positive way. There is no argument. In fact, my research is peerless. No more of going through a peer review for me. More on that some other time. Suffice to say that my opinions and observations are based on over 40 years of professional experience as a Wildlife Biologist and are not required to be reviewed by peers or ghost reviewers. No way!
The D500 somehow got switched into bracketing and it was impossible for me to shoot any more than 2-shot bursts. To correct the problem required a call to Nikon Technical Support but I was able to do it right on the water….after 9AM.
We simply reset the camera.
The Canada Geese are continuing to visit the pond of my boyhood. I am sure they are considering this as a nesting area. This is why I am giving them as much positive conditioning as possible during these days. And I give them a wide berth. Of course, as they make their decision, they do not know that this place receives much more human traffic once the summer gets here. As long as people can discipline themselves to not approach nests with the cell phones, everything will be fine.
For just a few short moments one of the loons began vocalizing their “putting” sound as it got atop an old, flattened muskrat mound. They are readying nest.
May 11, 2017: Cool, mostly overcast with some very spotty, intermittent sun. Another in a long, long series of days of nearly constant overcast skies.
And I was fooled yet again at sunrise by a direct line of sight to a rising sun and widely blue skies to the west. Grrrr!
The meteorologist called for constant cloudiness but they are sometime wrong on this. So I decided to make a break for it. By the time I got all geared up and in the water it was 100% overcast a gloomy.
Wind was out of the north. That wind is unpleasant….always cold and blustery. And because most lakes, including this one, are oriented north/south, if you at the bottom (south end) of the lake, you get the full effect of that the wind has on the water.
This is because the wind disturbance has had the entire length of the lake to build interrupted.
I fought the wind constantly, while I constantly adjusting camera exposure. It was frustrating and virtually fruitless.
There were two high points today:
1. I believe that today was the first day the loon couple copulated. Based on today’s date, I am going to roughly estimate that I will see a nest location and a loon sitting on that nest….by May 18. The incubation period is 26-29 days. Last year (2017) the loon chick appeared 26 days after I saw the first loon sitting on the nest. So 26 days from May 18 is June 13. If that happens it will be 16 days earlier than last year’s chick appeared (June 29), 2016)
2. Today I listened to and recorded the loon call when a Bald Eagle appeared. It is the pair tremelo. They came unusually close together and began the tremelo call. They kept at it as the Eagle passed over and long after it disappeared.
Here is a top reference for the incubation period and vocalizations:
May 13 (SAT) 2017:
Today was the first in a long series in which the forecasters called for partly sunny skies the entire day. I was in the water early enough and anticipated great things. But this was the first spring day since I have keeping a journal, that I saw no loons. I also saw no Great Blue Herons. There were a couple of interesting observations today.
I’ve mentioned before that when you approach a group of ducks, they often will take to flight, simply because they fear for their safety. It is legal for duck hunters to “jump shoot” their quarry, though the usual strategy is to “blind up” in a blind or “hide” (European name for the same shelter) and wait for them to come by, either flying or in the water, whereupon the duck hunters jump out and being blazing away at the ducks. Fun for the duck hunters and absolutely terrifying for the ducks. The second thing I want to say is that these ducks do not know when the duck season. Duck season is in the autumn and along coastal areas again in January for a short period. The reason for these time periods is that during the spring through summer the ducks are nesting and then raising their young.
So, with regard to my work here, these ducks are often very untrusting of me. Now apparently some of the ducks that come here are the typical mallards that one often sees in suburban ponds, where there is no hunting allowed. And so these ducks completely trust humans…simply because they do not venture into the country during the lives. Biut sometimes they do show up at the pond of my boyhood.
During my return from the pond, back to the launch area, I was forced to pass by a pair of ducks. As I gently tried to pass by them, I could see that they were quite uneasy. One of these two ducks chose to take to flight, while the other remained on the water as I passed by and left the area.
The aptly named Wood Duck takes evasiveness to another level. First, it is a cavity nesting duck. Also, when pressed, the Wood Duck will go into the woods……even quickly resorting running through the woods on foot. That’s right. And a pair of them did this to me today. I spotted a pair of them up ahead in the next bend in the slough. It was a tiny cove that they went into and I was certain the if I simply set up the camera ahead, I would have a good chance at capturing a Wood Duck on the wing, as they leaped from the water and flew off. I was ready. It is important to make sure the tiniest detail is properly set before I begin to move the canoe. And so that is what I did. But, as I very, very slowly moved forward with the long lens up and readied…..I was shocked to see one and then the other step out of the water, up onto the toe of the forest slope and proceed to scoot up into the forest and away.
MAY 27, 2017: Today was the first spring day in 2017 that would be sunny all day!
As I prepared to launch, I spotted the mated pair in the lower cove as they were padding northward toward the lake’s lower basin.
I had seen them copulate in the slough on the 18th of May and guessed that they may have started on the 16th. So we were around 10 days departed from that. Today, obviously, they had not yet selected a nest site. I was concerned because I assumed the female would have passed an egg by now. But I was unable to find any literature that stated how long after copulation that the first egg was deposited. And I was concerned that they had not shown any interest in nesting at the hairpin turn. I feared that if they did nest in the slough that certain kayakers would selfishly, closely approach the nest with the cell phones, just as they did in the 2015 season.
There had been a large temperature drop last night (May 26-27). At first I did not notice how chilly it was. But then I saw how pretty they looked in the fog, as they paddled northward toward the open lake. I gave them a wide berth as I motored northward, snapping off some images of them on the foggy waters. I anticipated there may be another pair of loons somewhere in the lower basin and wanted to locate them before my pair got that far. With lead time, there is always a good chance of being able to set up to capture some loon behavior when two different family groups meet. At this time of the year each pair has its own territory and does not like another group entering it.
As I approached the lower basin I spotted 3 loons at the bottom of the basin and about 1/3 mile distance from my pair, who had not yet reached the top of the cove and entered the lower basin.
As the two groups came into visual contact they casually approached each other and eventually met together in a group of 5, just below the grove of cathedral Eastern White Pines where the Bald Eagle often rests and peruses the lower basin.
Common loons often exhibit several behaviors when they find themselves encountering a group other than their own family:
1. In the earlier stages of a confrontation, as they face each other, all the Common Loons will assume a head posture that makes them look like penguins.
2. Soon after the engagement, they will assume a tighter group and that group will slowly rotate in a circle, as they stare at each other. Again, there is no way to determine who is staring at who, because there is no way to identify individuals.
3. Eventually they dive….all at once. I do not know why they dive all at once. But it is safe to say that they have not gone fishing together.
It is during one of the times that they resurface that they most often erupt into some kind of behavior that brings the confrontation to a climax….and ends the confrontation. This could be the penguin dance or it could be some displaced aggression. More on displaced aggression in a moment. But obviously, when these Common loons are underwater, they are engaged in behavior that gradually or suddenly exacerbates the situation.
4. In most encounters between different family groups, these behaviors are repeated over several minutes or more often, perhaps nearly a half hour or so.
In some cases, they are so agitated enough by an intruding loon that suddenly appears, that the mated pair will go directly into a Penguin Dance to drive off the intruder. I believe that this sudden behavior is much more likely to occur during a session when they are feeding their baby.
But on this morning, things developed very slowly. The group repeatedly engaged in tight circles, rotating and staring at each other and then dives all at once.
As they always to, the group gradually moved northward, further up into the lower basin…and away from the assumed nesting site of my mated pair. It is important to note here that whenever a single loon or loon group submerges, there is no way of being certain where it will resurface. I just happen to know that they will tend to gradually move away from my mated pairs nesting territory. In a way, they always seem to be escorting the invasive group away from the assumed nesting site.
And now, I will tell you of the most exciting behavior I have seen in all the times I have observed different family groups engaged with each other. It happened after the group had been under water for some time. And this is an example of displaced aggression. The group had submerged about 150 yards south of me. I always try to keep my canoe north of the encounters, because if/when an individual takes to flight, it will most likely do so in a northward direction.
Suddenly, instantly, a Common loon broke the surface, exploding from the lake right to my side, and within 5 feet of me. This loon swam underwater 150 yards from the place they submerged before erupting onto the surface. The eruption of water was much more violent than anything I could create, when as a teenager, I used to enjoy creating turbulence in the waters I swam in.
The instant the loon broke the surface it was making eye contact with me. It knew exactly where to surface in order to startle me. It maintained eye contact for just a second before submerging again. But it got the desired effect. I was so scared by this that I thought for an instant that I was being attacked.
MAY 28, 2017:
The loons copulated on May 18 and maybe as early as the 16th. So 10 days were required for the female loon’s body to form and lay the egg.