Posts Tagged: bird watching

Catching Up with the Loons

There’s news from the Middletons. The Westons didn’t show any signs of getting on with chicks when I visited. They’re usually about a week behind the Middletons, so that’s not surprising. While I’ve been out every morning and couple afternoons, I fell behind on editing. Finally catching up, here’s a very long post.

A note on photography since we’ve started nesting season. Please respect the loons and give them their space if you photograph them. For these photos, I was working with a 600mm or 800mm lens on a crop body. That’s something like a 24X or 26X scope. To get all of a loon in the frame, I’ve got to be something like 110 feet from the loon and further back to get some of the surroundings. That’s far enough back that the loons pretty much ignore me. And, a good distance for you to maintain..

Winter wasn’t quite ready to go away when I visited the Middletons last Saturday. It was a pleasant 34° when I launched. I found the loons in the cove where they used to nest.

After a quick preen, one of them gave a morning stretch. In years past, I’ve seen them mating on one of lawns along this cove. Soon, the loons were skirting the shoreline, cooing to each other.
Sure enough, soon mom crawled out of the water. Before they could finish the business, dad turned around and headed back out towards the pond. Mom sat on the shore for a couple minutes before she too headed back towards the pond at full steam.
An intruding loon had arrived on the pond. The home team went out to tell him the pond was already taken. They circled each other, sizing each other up.
They progressed to making aggressive dives and circling each other under water. When I gave my slideshow a while ago, someone asked how you can tell if a dive is aggressive. My best answer is the same way you can tell your wife’s mood by the way she closes a door. When loons are foraging, they usually slip gracefully under. When they’re challenging each other, they’ll make a splash.
When they’re circling and sizing each other up, they’ll often display just how large and powerful a loon they really are. By now, I’d lost all sense of who was the home team.
Of course, the other loons all think they’re the biggest and baddest loon and are willing to display to prove it.
The confrontation escalated to one of the males yodeling at another loon. Only males yodel, this was probably the home team male telling an intruding male to leave. After a time, the intruder took the hint and departed. For now.
After the intruder left, the Middletons were able to spend a peaceful morning. They cruised around their pond.
And they practiced just looking fine. I think they’ll pulled it off very well.
No morning is complete without preening and stretching.
Another stretch.
And they retreated back to the cove for a nap.

When I returned on Sunday, it was a balmy 39° when I launched. I could almost feel my fingers as I shot. I suspect the loons mated before I arrived. They seem to mate just around dawn for several days. They were coming out of the cove that they’ve been using when I arrived about dawn. I followed them over to the cove where they’ve nested the last four years.
After a quick scout around the cove, they took time to preen and stretch.
Here’s one of our loons placing some vegetation around the nest.
One loon is inspecting the work on the nest while the other one checks the basement for some good vegetation to add.
The loons tucked in for a nap and I went exploring. I soon found a male pileated woodpecker working on a birch tree.
Pileated woodpeckers are my nemesis bird, photo opportunities are rare. This was one of my better chances. Here, he’s scored a nice beetle.

Tuesday morning found me with some work to do before heading out. Up at 0330 and with it only 30° on the pond, I once again found myself questioning some of my life choices. This time, I was early enough.

The loons got busy making little loons shortly after I arrived.
After the deed, mom approached my boat and give an in my face stretch.
They made a quick inspection of the nest and decided it was in good shape.
They preened and stretched.
The settled in for a morning nap.
Warblers are back. The marsh is busy with common yellowthroats and along the shore were dozens of yellow-rumped warblers and this palm warbler.

Wednesday I went to check on the Westons. Conditions for photography were ideal, every photographer dreams of paddling on a 28° foggy morning.

The loons cooperated in looking great, the images were worth freezing for.
The loons spent the morning foraging and cruising the pond.
The full cast of characters seems to be back in the marsh. There were several sandpipers around, including this spotted sandpiper foraging along the marsh’s edge.
Tree swallows have been back for 10 days or two weeks. Now they’re getting serious about finding mates, calling and fliting about with each other.
Last year, there was a swamp sparrow who always posed nicely at eye level in a a spot with nice morning light. There’s a sparrow there now, I always hope it is the same bird.
And, he treated me to a morning long concert.
This yellow warbler was trying to tell the ladies he’s single and looking.
And the red-winged blackbirds were out looking for the ladies. The female red-winged blackbirds arrived en mass last weekend. The marsh is suddenly full of them.

We should be getting goslings soon. This goose nests right next to the boat launch every year and objects when anyone comes or goes.

Friday morning found the Middletons once again facing off with an intruder.

The intruder was on the pond when I arrived at dawn. The loons were circling each other.
Low-level challenges continued throughout the morning. When I was out of sight, there was a great deal of splashing – probably wing rowing and yodeling before the intruder retreated from the pond.
One of our loons stretching after the intruder leaves. With the excitement over, I went looking to see who else was out and about.
Least, but not last, a handful of least flycatchers were calling in the marsh. This on made a very brief appearance low enough to photograph.
Geese continued their skirmishing. Once one goose invades another’s territory, the whole pond ends up involved. When one of the geese in the original incursion retreats, it inevitably lands in yet another goose’s territory. Which starts a new fight….
I lost track of which goose was which, there were about a dozen geese along this stretch of pond. All squabbling.
Painted turtles are basking. I counted 62 of them around the pond this morning. Snapping turtles are out and about, I spotted several large adults on the surface.
These turtles were hauled out not far from the loon’s nest. It seemed like this loon went over to check them out.
One of the osprey from the pond’s nest has been patrolling over the marsh where the eagle was hanging out last week. One of the pair that was involved in last week’s skirmish with the eagle. The osprey has made at least two low, slow flights over the marsh each morning I’ve been on the pond. This time, he was challenged by a red-winged blackbird.
Before departing, I deployed the Loon Preservation Committee’s nesting sanctuary sign near the loon’s nest.

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