2016 Loon Watch: The Last Visit

My Summer With The Loons: Lazy Fall Days

Once school started, I didn’t get out on the lake as often.  But when I did, the fall foliage views were amazing!

I never knew where the loon family would be. Sometimes they were right off our point, fishing around the docks. Sometimes they were down by the State Park beach. Or over in the cove.

The lake was quieter now. As was my campground and the State Park.  And every time I went out to see my loons I wondered if it would be the last time.

The adult loons look a little different in September and October.

They’re losing their black and white feathers, and growing in stronger, warmer gray feathers to help them winter on the ocean water. Remember, they stay on the ocean water, until the next nesting season – through snow storms and ice storms and winter winds.

And even now, when the chick can feed itself, the parents still brought fish to it now and again.

Look!  The chick is as big as its parents, too!

The adults have taught it all it needs to know, in a much shorter time than other loon families, who’s chick was born a month early. They’ll fly separately to their winter home, the adult leaving first. The chick following several days later.

One day, in early October, with the warm Fall breezes and the late afternoon sun, I watched the adult catch a large fish while the chick was off diving and preening.

It dunked the fish, turned it and dunked it again. At first, I thought the loon was trying to attract the chick to eat it.

But the chick never came. So then I wondered if it would eat it itself. Loons turn fish so they can swallow them head first.

And whole.

But it never did. I’m pretty sure it let it go.

Strange. This time, the behavior escaped me.  Has your Mom or Dad ever told you to stop playing with your food?  Maybe it was something like that.

As I said goodbye to these loons . . .

Little did I know that it would be the last time I’d see them.

I learned a lot from this loon family, from the first failed nesting attempt, to this last playing-with-food behavior. I learned that loon adults care for their chicks. They feed them, protect them, and teach them. Not unlike our parents do for us.

I learned that being out on the lake at 6 in the morning helps feed my soul. The quietness was like deep meditation, calming my thoughts and freeing my mind during the busiest time of my year.

This was an incredible experience, and one I’ll carry in my heart for a very long time.

Posted in Campground, Cooper and Packrat, Hiking/Kayaking, My Loon Watch 2016, Wildlife Geek Notes, Wildlife Sightings, writing notes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 Loon Watch: Late August

My Summer With The Loons: Hoot Behavior

Late August, the weekend before Labor Day Weekend, I found a chance to kayak out again  with my friend Cindy.  This time, it was so foggy, we could barely see beyond the front of our kayaks. But foggy days have their own beauty . . . in the way water droplets cling to the lake grasses, and how the sun eventually burns through the fog to find you.

We kayaked all the way to the end of the lake by Range Pond State Park. We saw eagles fly back and forth. We heard their chicks hollering loudly for breakfast. A beaver slapped his tail on the water.

But no loons were seen.

Knowing I had to head back to open the camp store, Cindy and I turned back the way we’d come. It was then we heard a loon’s flying call. Swooping over our heads, it landed not too far away.

There was an answering call.

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There they were!

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Wow! The chick had grown!

They passed next to us, not paying us any mind.  Cindy and I snapped a few photos, when suddenly, the adult hooted and dove.

The chick immediately sunk low in the water, like a submarine.

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It was silent, looking left and right.

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Cindy and I turned to see why the adult had left. Wouldn’t you know, just like the other times, our adult was hanging out with the one that had flown in.

Mama was protecting her chick yet again.

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Cindy and I didn’t see any aggressive behavior between the two adults. It was more like they were checking in with each other.  So, we turned back to see what the chick was doing, but . . .

it was gone!

We looked everywhere! There was still fog lingering in spots, not wanting to lift just yet, which made it hard to see.

Finally though, we saw it. Along the shoreline, in the fog bank.

The brave little chick.

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When the second adult flew away, back to its own lake, our adult gave another hoot.

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And the chick swam out for a reunion.

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It got breakfast as a reward.

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For quite awhile before heading in, Cindy and I watched these two.  It was a beautiful sight.

Only four days later, after the weekend, and I was back out again to check on the loon family. School was starting the next day, and I knew I wouldn’t get out as much to see them.

You would think that watching the adult loons feed their chick would get boring after awhile. But every single time, it was a little bit different.

On this day, the adult brought back several fish to feed on.  Even though I knew the chick could find its own food, it kept hooting for more.

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And while the adult was busily hunting down the next snack, the chick ducked its head in the water, it dove, it looked around.

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This one time, the adult came back with no food.

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The chick looked a little confused. It hooted and waited. When the adult stayed, it hooted again.

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The chick slowly approached.

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Hooting softly a couple times, it came closer still.

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It poked and prodded at at its parent.

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Even pulled on a feather or two.

And when the adult had enough,

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It dove away.

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Our little chick had gotten its way!

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And here comes Mom with another snack!

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And another!

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I’m not even sure what that is!

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But it’s a mouthful!

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Too much of a mouthful! Our little chick drops it . . .

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And Mom has to go looking for it.

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And Dad too, I guess!

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I’m afraid that snack got away . . .

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And our little chick is not very happy about it!

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Will our little one ever learn to fish for itself?  Check back and see.

Note: Teachers, please feel free to use these blog posts in your lesson plans for Cooper and Packrat’s first adventure;  Mystery on Pine Lake. From this point on, my observations could be the observations of Cooper, Packrat and Roy after the final pages of the story.

Next Up:  Will Our Little Chick Leave In Time!

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2016 Loon Watch: The Chick Grows

My Summer With The Loons: Little Loon Is Two Weeks Old

In my last blog post, I’d visited the loon family on July 16th when the chick was only 5 days old. There wasn’t a morning after that, I didn’t think about kayaking out to see them again. But campground duties keep me pretty busy, especially the weekends!   Lucky for me, my campers kept me up to date. Kids fishing from the shoreline and docks, reported seeing the eagle fly overhead, and the adult loons crying out.  Kayakers, returning their rental keys, told stories of watching the loons feeding their chick.

I knew the loon family was doing well.

The next time I was able to sneak out, was July 20th. I spent over an hour documenting the chick and felt really good about the photos I’d taken. When I got home however, and tried to look at the images, the thing all photographers fear had happened.

My memory card was corrupted. All the photos were lost.

I whined and fussed and whined some more, before giving myself a kick in the pants. My author-friend, Cynthia Lord had made a sunrise kayaking date with me for the morning of July 23rd. I could get more photos then. It was only three days later, how much could the chick have changed?

As Cindy and I paddled out, we found the loon family in their usual early morning breakfast nook.

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They were a beautiful sight!

And yes, the chick had grown, and even changed color a tiny bit in those three days!

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It was more active too,

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crawling up and over the adult like it was playground equipment . . .

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It’s no wonder the adult had to stretch its wings every now and again.

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It must be hard, giving piggy-backs all the time.

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The chick began pulling at the adult’s feathers, one at a time.  In this chick’s short life, I’d seen this behavior a bunch of times. And every time, the adult would look under the surface of the water for minnows.

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So when the adult dove under water and didn’t pop right back up, I didn’t worry too much. “It’s hunting for breakfast,” I told Cindy.

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The chick moved a little closer to the shoreline, and there it stayed. One minute turned into five. Five turned into eight.

Where were the adults?

Two more minutes went by and Cindy and I became concerned. We paddled in circles, looking all over the lake. Where did the parents go? How could they leave the chick alone with the eaglets only a short flight away and snapping turtles lurking under the surface of the water?

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I raised my long lens and used it like binoculars. Cindy joked about being left to babysit without instructions.

And then I spied them . . .

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The adult pair were meeting and greeting another couple of loons . . . quite a distance away!  They dove and bobbed heads. They circled. And from what we could see, there was no drama, like the last time I’d witnessed an adult loon in their territory. (Previous post) There was no  yelling or fighting. This looked like . .. socializing! Early rafting!

I wonder if this is normal for loon parents who have a late nesting?

By now the loon chick was hanging out by a neighboring dock, and it seemed to be keeping its parents in sight. What struck me though, was how the chick stayed put. It didn’t wander more than a few feet. Didn’t dive. Didn’t try to join the adults. How did it know?

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The adult loons traveled together for a bit, and still the chick stayed. Cindy and I got a teeny bit closer to it. Just in case. We weren’t quite sure how we could save it, should danger approach. But it made us feel better just the same.

Eventually, the other pair of loons took flight, and the adults headed our way. When they were close, they hooted softly to their little one. Then, only then, did it leave its protected spot.

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As they swam away, one of the adults called out several times. Cindy and I thought it meant, We got it from here! Thanks!

Exactly a week later, I was able to paddle out again. In 26 years of living on Lower Range Pond, I don’t think I’ve ever gone out at 6:30am as often as I did that summer!  I have a new appreciation for that time of day . . . listening and watching the lake wake up.  All the colors are softer. Birds sing a chorus that starts quietly, and the higher the sun rises, the louder their song becomes. I’d hear a rooster crow across the lake. Then a screen door would slam on the other side.  Birds bathed at the lake’s edges, from eagles to the littlest sparrow. Beavers slowly swam for their dens, as Kingfishers snatched breakfast from the lake’s surface.

It quickly became my favorite time of day.

And finding the loons each time, made it even more wonderful.

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And now, only a week later, the chick seemed to have grown larger yet again.

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One of my favorite parts of watching the chick grow, was seeing it follow in its parents footsteps . . . so to speak.

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Even its stretches were adult-like

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I was amused to see the chick still pulled at its mother’s feathers when it was hungry . . .

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When she dove this time though, she came back with something a little bigger than a minnow!

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The adult dunked it, and dunked it, so the chick would get interested.

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It didn’t take long . . .

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Just like the adults, the chick swallowed the fish whole, and head first.

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Where on earth does it “put” that much fish?

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Yum!

Well, if you’re a loon, that is!

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I almost felt like the chick’s parent, so proud and comforted to know it had  grown and was eating well. At this size and 19 days old, I hoped it was too large to be a snack for a snapping turtle.

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Every day that the chick lived, meant it had a better chance of survival.

And at this point, I had a feeling it was going to do well.

Note: Teachers, please feel free to use these blog posts in your lesson plans for Cooper and Packrat’s first adventure;  Mystery on Pine Lake. From this point on, my observations could be the observations of Cooper, Packrat and Roy after the final pages of the story.

Next:  Hoot Behavior

Posted in Campground, Cooper and Packrat, Hiking/Kayaking, My Loon Watch 2016, Wildlife Geek Notes, Wildlife Sightings, writing notes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 Loon Watch: Five Days After Hatching

My Summer With The Loons:

Chick Cuteness Overload

Warning! There are tons of chick photos within, it might prove to be too cute . . .

July is a very, very busy month for a campground owner, and I wasn’t able to get out on the lake like I had been. Over the next couple of days, I peppered my returning rental boaters with questions on whether they’d seen the family. Were there still two? Where did you see them? It wasn’t until the fifth day, that I was finally able to make time to get out on the lake again. I woke with the rising sun, grabbed my camera bag and walked to the lake, feeling my stresses roll off my shoulders the closer I got.

Unlocking my kayak, I dragged it into the water. Climbing inside, I dipped my paddle in the water first on the left, then on the right.

I couldn’t wait to see the chicks again!

As I scanned the lake for the loon family, I heard the unmistakable call of a flying loon.

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It went down the left side of the lake, then circled back around to fly over my head again and continue down the right side.

The strange thing was, in the distance, I saw two adult loons with the chicks.

Uh-oh. Loons usually don’t put up with visitors in their territory while they’re raising their chicks. But I didn’t hear the adults hollering, so I shrugged it off.

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I slowly approached the loon family who were only a couple hundred yards off our point.  I was still at least three times the recommended distance away, my long camera lens at the ready.

Right away I noticed something was different.

Only one chick.

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My heart sank. Where was the second one? But then I remembered how the second chick had been hiding under its parent’s wing the last time I’d seen them. Perhaps it was resting there again! I stretched my camera lens out as far as it would go  . . .

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Swallowing it whole!
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Where did he put it?
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. . . through many feedings and wing stretches I watched . . .

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. . . but after half an hour or more, I had to give up hope. The second chick was lost.

I admit, I was sad and teary.

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As I watched this little chick though, my heart became lighter. I began to celebrate his life.  He’s adorable! Look how he pulls at his parent’s feathers as he rides!

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He stretches his wings, and you can almost see the adult loon he will be  . . .

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At only five days old, the little one learned so fast!  He could already dive for a few seconds at a time. Every time he went under the surface, I held my breath!

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Both parents took care of feedings and cared for him.  I watched as they brought tiny minnows over and over again . . .

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And this thing that looked like a bug . . .

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There were so many moments where I found myself  saying “Awwwww!”

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I swear I watched the loons for an hour and a half that day. So many times I thought I’d paddle home . . . I really should go back to the camp office to work . . . I had paperwork to do . . . customers to greet.

But I couldn’t tear myself away. I took a little over 1000 photos in that one sitting.

Suddenly, the adult with the chick struck a different pose . . .

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This adult was on alert. I looked wildly around.  The other parent was yards away to my right. I didn’t see any herons or eagles or . . .

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Whoa!  Without warning, the adult loon ran across the water!  I knew that behavior. She was upset, territorial, and she was coming at me!

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Was she worried about me? After weeks and weeks of watching them carefully from a distance,  what did I do?  I picked up my paddle with my free hand and pushed backward a few yards.  But she kept coming!

I got lower in the kayak to appear smaller. She went into a penquin-type dance across the water. Notice how her beak is down. This is not a happy-to-be-on-the-lake stretch of the wings.

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She’s mad!

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She ducked in the water, then reared up again.

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I paddled backward again. What did I do?

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Suddenly, she shot right past my kayak . . .

It wasn’t me at all.

I pivoted in my seat and there, right behind me, was a third adult come to visit.

And these two parents were not happy about it.

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They swam and head bobbed, and circled each other for a time.

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They battled, too.

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Finally, the third adult got the message it wasn’t welcome. It ran across the water and took flight . . .

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Our loon took one last look at the departing visitor . . .

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and returned to the chick who’d been waiting all alone by our dock.

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The poor little thing was so worn out from all the excitement, it laid right down and closed its eyes.

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Just when I thought the wild ruckus was over, the visiting loon circled over the adult and the chick again!

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It called out as it buzzed them before taking off for the lake next door.

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Whew! That was close. I’ve read about how loons will attack the chicks of other loons. I didn’t want to lose this little one.

I paddled home with the image below in my heart. I said a little prayer I would find it safe and sound and a little bigger, when came to visit again.

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Note: Teachers, please feel free to use these blog posts in your lesson plans for Cooper and Packrat’s first adventure;  Mystery on Pine Lake. From this point on, my observations could be the observations of Cooper, Packrat and Roy after the final pages of the story.

Next: The Loon Chick Grows

Posted in Campground, Cooper and Packrat, Hiking/Kayaking, My Loon Watch 2016, Wildlife Geek Notes, Wildlife Sightings, writing notes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 Loon Watch: Hatching Day!

My Summer With The Loons: Will there be chicks?

On a rainy July 10th, 2016, exactly 27 days after laying two olive colored eggs, the adult loon on the nest reared back to turn them. I very clearly saw pips (tiny cracks) in the eggs, and I knew those chicks were trying to make their way out into the world.

As the sun rose on July 11th, I watched the adult loon on the nest raise her wing over and over and over again.

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I didn’t *see* the chick . . . but I was pretty sure at least one had hatched!  I waited as long as I could, but eventually I had to go. The campground needed me, and honestly, I didn’t want to stress the loon family by overstaying my welcome.

All day long, all I could think about were those loons and their chicks. Their first nest had failed in the final days. Would their second attempt in a different location be successful?

I worried and hoped and wondered . ..

On July 12th, I paddled out at 6am, still hoping and praying and wondering.  As I rounded the corner and came upon my usual vantage point, I saw this . . .

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an empty nest.

Nothing left.

Suddenly, the loons cried out – long and loud – the tremelo call! Danger was in the area!  My eyes searched the lake and there . . . I saw them!!  Through my long, long camera lens that works like binoculars, I could see . ..

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One. One chick. My heart skipped a beat with joy, but at the same time I was disappointed. Only one.  The loons cried out again. Could it be me? I looked around to see I was the only boater on the lake at this early hour. Then I looked up. There!  That was the trouble!  An eagle hanging out high in a pine tree above, its eyes focused on the loons . . . especially on the new chick. No wonder the adults were upset!

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The eagle looked down at me. “Go find your eaglets breakfast somewhere else,” I told it. The eagle stayed only a couple minutes more, before flying down the edge of the lake toward the State Park.

I looked back to find the adults feeding their chick. Can you see the teeny, tiny, minnow?

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The adult was working hard to get the chick to take it.

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He kept dunking it and offering it, dunking it and offering it, dunking it . . .

Oh! Wait!

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There IS two!!  Two chicks!!!

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And look how precious they are!!

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I put my paddle down, and just floated.  For as far as the eye could see, it was just the loons and I. The sun shone brightly over the tree tops, reflecting  green leaves and pine needles onto the calm water below.  No breeze blew. It was so still, even from the distance I was at, I could hear the soft hoots of the parents.  This was my first time watching a loon family with two chicks!  Two!  I still couldn’t believe it.

I’m not afraid to admit, I got a little teary at the wonder of it all.

I watched the adults stretch . . .

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and the chicks try to copy it.

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I was able to see for the first time, a loon chick hiding under its parent’s wing.

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This protects them from the eagles above and the snapping turtles below. I also helps keep them warm.

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The chicks floated, and ate  . . .

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and napped.

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And just when I thought perhaps it was time to go in to shore and leave them sleep, they’d wake up and do something adorable again!

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I can’t tell you how many times I giggled out loud at their antics.

Feeding the chicks seemed to be the adults only mission. First they’d dive or duck their heads in the water.

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How they caught the little minnows so quickly, I’ll never know!

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Then they’d bring it over to the chick. Sometimes the chick was floating in the water and would meet their parent halfway.

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Sometimes, they were fed “in bed”, so to speak.

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This time though, the chick really didn’t seem to want their meal.

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The adult tried hard to get this little one to eat something!  He even laid the minnow right on top of him!

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For a second, it looked as if the little one was going to give it a try . . .

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But he turned away!

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Picky eater!!

But the adults weren’t giving up. (And right about this time, I was wondering where the second chick had gotten to!)

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Well, there’s a little interest . . .

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Or maybe not . . .

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Finally!!

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And after all of that, it was time to sleep again!

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Where is that second chick, anyway??

I looked up at the sky, there were no eagles in sight. I hadn’t seen any snapping turtles . . that second chick was here just a second ago . . . Oh!

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There he is!!!  He’d been under the wing the whole time!

I came to discover the chicks are completely hidden under a loons wings. So as our lakes open up this year, please keep this in mind when you come across an adult. If it doesn’t dive and move away, it might just have a chick under its wing, hidden from you!

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As I paddled in that day, I thought about how healthy both chicks looked, and what great parents both loon adults were. Working as a team, they seemed to be getting the chicks everything they needed. Food and warmth, were their main concerns right now.

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That and keeping their loon chicks out of harm’s way.

Note: Teachers, please feel free to use these blog posts in your lesson plans for Cooper and Packrat’s first adventure;  Mystery on Pine Lake. From this point on, my observations could be the observations of Cooper, Packrat and Roy after the final pages of the story.

Next time:  DANGER! 

Posted in Cooper and Packrat, Hiking/Kayaking, My Loon Watch 2016, Wildlife Geek Notes, Wildlife Sightings, writing notes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 Loon Watch: The Week Before Hatching

My Summer With The Loons: Week 4

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In the final days before (what I’d calculated to be) 2016’s loon hatching day, something felt a little different.  I was going out in my kayak at the same time. Sitting in the same spot. Staying in my kayak as I always had.

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But the loon on the nest seemed to be panting more. Was it the warmer temperatures?  Or was she/he stressed because there was more traffic on the lake during the day?

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There seemed to be more egg turning and less leaving the nest to swim together as I’d mentioned in the last two posts about weeks 1 through 3.

(To read those first and learn the background behind my summer adventure with the loons, click the back-arrow on the top right of this page)

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And one of the loons was much more skittish. EVERY bird that flew overhead, not just the eagles and herons, caused it to lay flat.

Luckily, my presence did not. Because I wouldn’t have been able to continue with my story.

Two observations from week four stand out as being “cool nature moments”, the kind Cooper and Packrat would love.  I thought you might love them, too.

Three days before what I now know was hatching day, I paddled out to the nest on a gray, misty afternoon. I hadn’t been able to go out that morning because it was pouring, but knowing we were only days from the big event, I decided to risk getting caught in a shower.  By the time I beached the kayak though, the mist had thickened enough for me to leave it and climb the banking to sit under a big old pine tree on my friend’s island. (Remember, I’d asked for permission weeks before).  The day wasn’t necessarily good for photos, but at this point in the nesting period, I was more interested observing the loon’s behavior anyway.

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What I didn’t anticipate was sitting up that high, gave me a new vantage point – I could look down on the loon and the nest.

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Rain fell once or twice, and the cool breeze blew, making me glad I’d moved, but the loon stayed firm on her eggs. Never once did it move side to side, shake its wings or turn the eggs. The photos I took show how the rain just rolls off her feathers.

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After a time, I realized something looked off. Different. Had the lake risen? Lowered? Was the nest shaped differently?  I finally decided it was the loon herself. She was laying wider and lower. Was it due to the rain?  Or, dare I think it?  Was it because the eggs were beginning to hatch?

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Two days before hatching day, I could only paddle out to see if they were still nesting. Everything seemed the same, so I quickly checked the trail camera I’d hung a few days earlier and left.

The day after that, I paddled out and took up my usual “parking spot” at 6am.  Seeing her still on the nest, I knew at least one of the eggs hadn’t hatched yet.

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I remember sipping my coffee, as yet another gray day dawned. It reminded me of the days I described in Mystery of Pine Lake, in which every day was gray and rainy, causing the level of the lake to rise and flood the nest – and the eggs. 

I hoped and prayed that by the end of the week, we’d see loon chicks.

The second loon came down the lake into view as he always does around 7 o’clock.  He hooted, and I waited for the loon on the nest to slip off and join him as she had so many mornings before.

But she didn’t move a feather.

He came a little closer and hooted again. She stayed.  I carefully studied our surroundings, but didn’t see any danger.  The loon on the water dove and came up behind the nest and still she stayed. He moved around to the side again.

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He seemed to look at me, then up into the air as I had done, then over to me again.

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Suddenly, he dove, and when he came up, he was only a few feet from my kayak. I almost couldn’t focus with my 500mm lens, he was so close! I held my breath.

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It only took him a minute to look me over,

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before he dove away to pop up beside the nest again.

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Slipping through the water plants, he slowly made his way to her side.

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I heard him hoot once more.

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“Go on,” I whispered. “Take a break, girl.”

And she seemed to consider what we were asking of her.

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Using her legs, she lifted up carefully so as not to kick an egg off into the water, and then slipped into the lake headfirst.

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The mate didn’t wait, it climbed up onto the nest immediately.  This was so very different from how they’d been switching places up until now.  The day was not cold, in spite of the clouds and mist, so I didn’t think that was it. Perhaps there was danger in the area I wasn’t aware of. It wouldn’t be the first time  . . .

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I turned my camera toward the loon on the water and smiled to see her stretching and preening.

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I looked at my watch. Time to go and open the campground office.  Everything looked good here . . .

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but wait . . .

as the nesting loon reared back to turn the eggs, I thought I saw . . .

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I did!! I did see it!  Can you see it too?

The eggs were pipping!!

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It wouldn’t be long now!!  Egg hatching time!!

Next Up:  Hatching Day!

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2016 Loon Watch ~ Nesting Weeks Two and Three

My Summer With The Loons: Weeks Two and Three

During the second and third weeks of monitoring the loons nesting period, I got into a routine.  I’d paddle out at  6am to see them, coasting the last fifty yards or so. Beaching my kayak for stability, yet staying in it so I wouldn’t tower over them, I’d lay my camera with it’s 500mm lens in my lap at the ready. With a nod to the nesting loon, I’d sip my coffee with one eye on them, and the other on the rising sun.

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Smaller songbirds sang and flitted around us.

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They skimmed the water’s surface for breakfast. They fed their young.

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Northern Flicker
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Northern Flicker

Every now and then, the loon on the nest would glance at me, then gaze back out over the lake.  Honestly, most of my time was spent watching the loon look side to side, and back again.  But I didn’t mind. Being there in that place, at that time of day, was like medicine for my soul after a busy spring of teaching and running a campground.

A couple of times, the loon laid her head down suddenly. I knew this meant it felt danger in the area. Just as I began to wonder if she was tired of my company, or if I’d made a noise she wasn’t familiar with, an eagle or heron would fly over us toward the other end of the lake.

The loon always sensed them long before I saw them.

During these two weeks, I only encountered two kayakers and two fisherman. What a magical feeling, to be the only one on the lake!

Almost every morning around 7am, the second adult would make their way down the lake toward us, fishing or preening as they floated along.  Once, it napped for fifteen minutes within fifty yards of the nest.

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Eventually, the loon on the lake would come a little closer to its mate and hoot softly.  I began to recognize it as a “let’s-switch” call because always, the one on the nest would slip into the water to join him/her.

Together they stretched . . .

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. . . they preened, and continued to hoot softly to each other.

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It reminded me of Dave and I connecting over dinner after having been in different areas of the campground all day.

More than once, one or both of the loons popped up within a few feet of my kayak, seeming to “check me out” before going back  to deeper water.

I was surprised they left the eggs alone, although in hindsight, they were never more than twenty yards away.

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After 7 or 8 minutes, the loon that’d been out on the lake, slowly made its way toward the nest as the loon who had been on the eggs, wandered off.

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As the adult climbed up onto the nest, you could see why they don’t stay on land any longer than they have to. With legs at the back of their body, walking on land is awkward and clumsy compared to their gracefulness in the water. In this moment, they would be easy prey for a predator.

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Before settling on the eggs, the adult would always turn them just so with the end and side of their beak.

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Go to this link to see a video of these loons switching places on the nest.

No matter how many times they did this, I never grew tired of watching.

I’m such a nature geek.

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Next: Week Four: The final days before hatching

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2016 Loon Watch ~ My Summer With the Loons

My Adventure Begins

My story begins back in May, 2016. School was in session, we owned the campground and it had just opened, aaaand I struggled to find writing time for Cooper and Packrat’s fourth adventure, Mystery of the Bear Cub. But still, Lower Range Pond called to me, so I made time to sneak out in the kayak to check on our one pair of nesting loons.

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As they had for many years, the pair chose a spot in the shadows at the bottom of a banking on the shoreline. But it was also a spot where they’d been unsuccessful for the last six years or so.  In fact, for three of the last four years, the eggs hadn’t hatched at all. This year however, everyone on the lake was hopeful. The loons seemed to be doing well. With one week to go, I had high hopes this year would be *the year*.

Memorial Day Weekend worried me though. Lakes go from very quiet, to extremely busy overnight. Lower Range Pond is no exception, even with its 10hp limit. I managed to get out on the lake early Saturday morning of that holiday weekend to find the loons were doing fine. I even witnessed the loon on the nest turn one olive colored egg.

“Not two?” I wondered. But then again, one was all we needed for a successful nesting.

Late in the afternoon on Monday, after most of the campers had checked out, I paddled out again. I rounded the corner of the shoreline and raised my camera.  Using my 500mm lens like binoculars, I focused.

The nest was empty.

I looked again. I scanned the area. The pair were in the water together, which was not  unusual, they do this from time to time for 5 minutes or so while switching places on the nest. But five minutes passed. Then seven. And they were swimming further and further away. Seeing the homeowner nearest the nest getting onto his pontoon boat, I raised a hand in greeting and we met in the middle of the lake.

Both of us watching the loons wander away, he told me that overnight, the loons left the nest. No traces of the egg I’d seen on Saturday were left. There were no clues.

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Had a mink or weasel gotten the egg?  Had the loon been scared off the nest and kicked the  egg out in its hurry? It was a mystery.

“But the loons have been circling the area all day,” he assured me. “Maybe they’ll nest again.”

I could recount the many times I paddled out on the lake over the next couple of weeks, looking for signs of nesting. And failing to find those signs.

And I could tell stories of the times I didn’t see any loons at all and went home discouraged.

But let’s skip ahead to June 15th, when I rounded that corner at first light and saw a flash of white. I raised my camera, zoomed all the way out, and saw this.

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A bright sunny spot, visible from three sides, it was a little further away from my friend-on-the-lake’s home.  If the loons couldn’t successfully hatch eggs while hiding in the shadows, why would they pick this spot?  A spot where they could be seen by every kayaker and canoer, paddleboarder and fisherman on the lake.

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A nest easily accessible to eagles and their young that were just about to fledge.

It sure was a beautiful spot though. Speaking with a photographers eye, it was perfect. Unlike the May nesting, June nesting had greenery. The sun rose at the perfect angle and there was blue water behind her instead of a dark banking.

I called my friend and told him right away. He gave me permission to use his dock and land so I wouldn’t have to take photos from a rocky kayak.  “Let’s find out why they haven’t had chicks,” he said.

So I began my mission to document a full nesting period of the loons.  Coffee in one hand and my camera in the other, I paddled out almost every morning at 6am to start my day.

Just me and the loons.

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I chose not to get out of my kayak, instead staying as low as possible.  These photos look like I’m very close, but I had my 5oomm lens zoomed out all the way, and then I cropped the photos some more back at home. What a difference it makes in the sharpness of your photos when you have calm, windless mornings and/or a shallow area to rest upon.

You might think that watching nesting loons would get boring after awhile. I mean, how many photos like the ones above can you take? (I, of course, took hundreds!)

But there’s more to nesting than that. In the first week alone, I watched the adult move sticks from here to there . . .

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I watched them check the air for predators continually . . .

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And on the second day, I watched them turn two olive colored eggs with their very sharp, very long beak.

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Two!  Two eggs!   I was hooked.  I marked the days off on my calendar, and made a decision not to post on social media until the eggs had hatched.

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I wanted to give them the very best chance I could.

Through the next few blog posts, I’ll tell tales of what I learned about loons while watching them from my kayak, over coffee, in the first light of day. Teachers, feel free to use these photos and tales in the classroom with Cooper and Packrat’s first adventure, Mystery on Pine Lake, or with other nature books, such as Cynthia Lord’s, Half A Chance.

Up next:  Switching places on the nest

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What Did That Fox Just Eat???

Through my trail cam and photos, I have watched foxes eat many things . . .

As I snapped this photos series of of this adorable kit, I sat high on a hill above, quite a distance away with my long lens. It wandered through the woods, sniffing here and digging there.

It wasn’t until I was home editing the photos, that I saw this cool image below of the fox nose to nose with a caterpillar! I remember gasping and thinking, “How cute!” Visions of picture book ideas about a fox and a caterpillar being friends, danced through my imagination!

But then, THIS photo popped up next!

He ate it! But I”m not sure he liked it!

I’ve watched an adult fox walk through the woods . . .

Dig under the leaves, and retrieve a cache of food she’d hidden weeks before.

I’ve even watched kits play with a dead mouse their mom left for them.

But I have NEVER seen a fox catch a quick lunch of snake before!

Video taken by my shed – April 30th (the date on the cam was incorrect!)

Foxes can run 30 miles an hour and are very stealthy! They hear and see very well in the dark. That makes them good hunters. And thank goodness they are, because they have small stomachs, so they eat many small meals a day.

Foxes prefer mice, rabbits, squirrels and other small mammals, but they’ll eat bugs, birds and lizards, too. And if they live near your home, they might eat left out dog food or go after your chickens. But these aren’t their first choices.

Writing Prompt:

Using the fox and caterpillar photos above, write a story about them!

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Gopher Tortoise

An Endangered Species in Florida

I’ve visited my in-laws on Sanibel Island so many times over the last twenty years, that it has become like a second home to me. Everywhere you go, there are yellow warning signs that say: Gopher Tortoise Crossing.

Every year I’d visit, I’d look for them, but I wouldn’t see them.

Then in 2019, while driving back from a day on the beach photographing osprey snatching fish from the ocean, I suddenly hollered to my husband, “Stop the car, stop the car!”

There, on the grass on the side of the road, was a gopher tortoise! Finally!

Gopher tortoises can weigh up to 15 pounds, and have scaly, shovel-like front legs that are specialized for digging.

They’re a threatened species in Florida, and are the only tortoise east of the Mississippi. Hatchlings and young gopher tortoises are yellow and brown, but the bright color tends to fade with age. They dig many burrows in their lifetime and spend 80% of their lives around it. Burrows are approximately 15 feet long and 6 feet deep, and they help the tortoise maintain their body temperature in extreme weather, such as droughts or fires. They are also protection from predators.

The main reason the tortoise is endangered is because of a loss of habitat. They need land with trees, but not too many trees, so the sunlight can get through and the tortoises favorite plants to munch on, can grow. They also need dry, sandy soil to dig their burrows.

Another reason their numbers are going down, is because females are apt to be hit by cars as they travel to find a good nesting site.

Cool Facts:

  • Gopher Tortoises can live 40 to 70 years in the wild
  • Their diet includes wire grass, broadleaf grass, berries, flowers, apples, and mushrooms.
  • Their burrows also become shelter for hundreds of different animals like burrowing owls, wild rabbits, mice, and indigo snakes. Because those animal’s survival depends on the survival of the gopher tortoise, this makes the tortoise a keystone species.
  • Females lay 5 – 9 ping pong ball sized eggs, which hatch 80 to 100 days later. The hatchlings are on their own the minute they are born, with no adult to help them survive!

Florida has laws and rules in place to help the tortoises. Scientists are recording their movements and patters to learn more about them, and they’ve also created apps so people like you and me can report gopher tortoise sightings. They’ve also made it illegal to move a tortoise from its burrow.

What is YOUR favorite endangered species? Why is it endangered? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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