Posts Tagged: birding

One Loon Family Still Here

Dawn yesterday found a cloudless sky and with the temperature here on the hill at 32°, I figured I could get the kayak around the pond. I headed north to check on the Westons. This is the family that faced intruders for several weeks in the spring. They hatched two chicks and one survives and is 15 weeks old.

I’ve got a couple appearances coming up. Wednesday October 26, I’ll be at the Bugbee Senior Center at 1:00 p.m.with my slideshow An Uncommon Look at the Common Loon. The show is open to the public, see the details on their site: https://www.bugbeecenter.org/activity/special-events/bugbeetalks/.

There’s a photographic print version of An Uncommon Look which I’ll be hanging at the Kellogg-Hubbard Memorial Library in Montpelier on November 1. It will stay up until November 30. I’ll be giving An Uncommon Look at 6:30 p.m. on November 9 at the Library. Free and open to the public.

And, I’ll be at Craft Vermont November 18-20, 2022 at the DoubleTree in South Burlington. Come on by and say hello.

When I got to the loon’s pond, the sun had yet to hit the tops of the trees along the west side of the pond and it was a refreshing 29°. There was only the slightest trace of ice along the shore, no problem for a kayak.

While I was launching the kayak, I noticed what looked to be a large hawk land in a tree towards the other end of the pond. Too far away for a good ID and with the loons talking I headed out to find them.


There were two loons on the pond. One I suspect is mom, the other is our surviving chick. When I found thems, they appeared agitated. They were swimming back and forth, fairly rapidly and making low hooting calls. After I watched for a few minutes, it occurred to me to check that hawk out. It turned out to be a juvenile bald eagle. One of the residents on the pond told me earlier that a young eagle had been harassing the chick. The eagle is at the top of the tree just right of center.
After a time, the eagle flew off to the north. The loons started foraging, but still appeared agitated.

A little looking around found a second immature bald eagle watching the pond.

A few minutes later, this eagle took off and made a couple of low passes over the loons. Both loons dove in plenty of time. The eagle settled on a new perch. The eagle that had flown off to the north reappeared – coming in like a husky hearing me unwrap a piece of cheese.
The loons kept a eye on the eagles – and kept talking about them – while they tried to forage.

I suspect that’s mom in front. My guess is based on not hearing the adult loon yodel. The male on the pond this year was not shy about yodeling at eagles or most anything that moved along the shore. Our chick is a male, he tried a couple of yodels that didn’t impress the eagles. Note that mom has pretty much changed into her winter plumage.
Our chick is just about as long as the adult, but isn’t yet at full adult weight.
The eagles took another leisurely flight over the pond. The chick took off wing rowing.
With the eagles out of sight, the chick took a moment to stretch.
But the eagles weren’t done yet. They reappeared and one made a dive at the chick.
The chick was prepared…..
And dove rapidly. I’m impressed by the speed. My camera takes 10 images a second. The chick was entirely submerged in the second frame after having been sitting mostly still in the first. After missing the chick, both eagles headed out of sight to the north.
The chick is capable of foraging for himself now. But that doesn’t stop him from from encouraging mom to feed him.
With the eagles gone, the loons had time to forage and to let me get good looks at them. Here’s a good look at our chick.
And a good look at mom.
Our chick foraging on the shadowed side of the pond.
And pestering mom to provide a meal.
And we’ll close with a couple shots of the chick stretching.
The loons are likely to stay on the pond until the ice starts to form. Mom is likely to leave first, the chick following a week or 10 days later. They may make a stop in a warmer pond and stay until the ice starts to form there. Eventually, they’re likely to head for the coast between Maine and Cape Cod to spend the winter. The parents will return next spring, the chick won’t be back until they’re ready to raise his own family. Depending on who tracks the loons, that will be somewhere between two and five years. This is likely the last time I’ll knowingly see this chick. I wished mom a good winter and the chick a long healthy life before I headed out.

Checking in on the Loon Families

I had a chance to check in on two of our loon families this weekend. Let’s see what’s up.

The Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton, MA, is this coming weekend, October 8, 9& 10. I’ll be there in booth 220 with lots of photos of loons, owls, fox kits and other critters.

Friday morning, after scraping ice off the windshield, I headed east to check on the Eastons. This is the family that last I saw them, the chicks were practicing takeoffs, but were not yet airborne. This pond is almost 2,000 feet above sea level. The loons usually depart from this pond much earlier than the nearby ponds at lower elevations. This year, I wondered if fish were scarce; the parents seemed to feed the chicks more crayfish than other loons and in the last couple visits, the parents delivered only a couple fish of any size. Anecdotal evidence from fisherpeople also suggests that fish are scarce, but when has anyone fishing complained of there being too many fish?

One loon flew over the pond about half an hour before sunup, and that was the only sighting for the day. The loons have moved on. They’re likely to have moved to a lower pond where they’re likely to stay until the ice starts forming. Once the ice appears, they’ll head to the coast.

Our heron was around to give me the consolation prize.

One of our herons was hunkered down and fluffed up. Not too surprising, it was 34°F when I put the boat in.

He’d picked a spot that got early sun. He seemed more interested in warming up than foraging.
Getting started for the day with a big yawn.
After a time, he headed out, choosing a flight path with through the sun with deep shadows behind.

This morning, I visited the loons to the west, the Westons. Their pond is much lower, about 870′ ASL. And, much warmer, at 47 when I arrived. There was one adult and the surviving chick on the pond. The chick is 13 weeks old this weekend.

One of the residents on the pond tells me that the chick has had a busy week with an juvenile eagle repeatedly harassing him. No sign of the eagle this morning, but I wasn’t out long.

Our chick is nearly grown up and dressed for the winter.
The adult on the pond has started to change into winter colors. The other adult may have already headed out for the season or could just be visiting a nearby pond for the morning.
The chick is capable of foraging for itself, but is still willing to take a meal from the parent. Here’s the chick popping up from a dive.
And here’s the chick pestering the parent to be fed.
Our chick has learned to fly! He(?) took a quick flight over the south end of the pond this morning before setting back down.
While the chick has learned to fly, his landings still need work. He approached the water at a steep angle and made quite a splash as he hit. Looks like he forgot to pull his nose up too.

Anyone have a bear coming after the last of the apples?

Loon Chicks at 11 Weeks

This pair of loon chicks is 11 weeks old this weekend. There was thick fog on the hill this morning when I checked the weather. Hoping the loons would be above the fog, I headed out. We went from fog to haze before a beautiful day broke out. The chicks’ big project continues to be to learn to fly.

I’ll be down at the Capital Arts Festival in Concord, NH September 24 & 25 with lots of wildlife photos and note cards. Come by and say hello. The event is free, much of the activity is on Main Street. You can find the details here.

Our loon family was spread out across the pond, sleeping in when I arrived. A few minutes before the sun reached the pond, the pack of coyotes that lives to the west convened to discuss – loudly – the issues of the day. That got one of our adults stirring and starting the day with a big stretch.
Our chicks were about half a mile apart at dawn, this one swam by on the way to tracking down a parent to get some breakfast. The chicks can pretty much feed themselves these days, but don’t miss an opportunity to have a meal served up for them.
Our parent obliged and went to work catching crayfish. This is the pond with the banded male. I wasn’t able to get a good look at either adult’s leg this morning, so I couldn’t tell who was whom.
As soon as the chick swallowed the meal, it started pestering the adult to be fed again. The chicks will nibble at the parents, around the neck if they can reach. Both parents were quick to dive when the chicks approached this morning.
Our adult inbound with another crayfish for the chick. Several times, our adult surfaced with food while the chick was diving. Many times, the adult swallowed the food itself.
After eating the crayfish, the chick went right back to nibbling the parent.
After a time, they took a break to preen.
While preening, our adult took a shower. Loons will dip their wings rapidly in the water to kick up a spray.
Preening is usually followed by a good stretch.
Our parent threw off some of the water from the shower.
After preening, it was time to start on today’s lesson. There wasn’t a wind for the chick to try to takeoff into. I got lucky when the first attempt went across my bow. Our chick is just starting its run.
Picking up speed, working the wings for all their worth!
Almost!
Ohhh! Not this time! Our chick settles back into the water.
Our chick is determined to make this work…. here’s a second attempt – with an even better track for photos.
Once again, technically airborne, but the chick’s wings aren’t yet providing enough lift to take off.
The chick continued running and flapping….
Will this time work?
Not today, little guy. It will probably be the better part of two weeks before the chicks can actually take off. They’ll keep trying until they succeed.

Loon Chicks At Four And Five Weeks

The loon chicks to my east are five weeks old this weekend. All four on both ponds, the ‘Eastons’ and the ‘Middletons,’ seem to be doing well. The pond to my west, the ‘Westons,’ has sad news, the parents have lost a chick.

Our bluebirds’ second brood is ready to fledge. Wednesday afternoon the adults started calling to the chicks to leave the box. Thursday they were more insistent. Friday they sounded impatient. Saturday morning, two of the four chicks left the box. This morning their are still two chicks in the box. Mom and dad have stopped calling, they’re busy feeding the two that fledged. The two in the box are looking out the door, trying to get up the courage to make the leap.

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair is August 6-15, I’ll be there with lots of wildlife prints, cards and more. Other images are available through my web site, www.IanClark.com. It takes me some time between capturing an image and getting prints made. If you see a photo that you’d like in one of my posts, send me an email and I’ll bump that image to the head of the queue.

The Weston family couldn’t be found during last week’s census. They’ve been under pressure from intruding loons all spring. They’re on a small pond, not being found in 90 minutes of searching was worrisome. I love how people watch out for ‘their’ loons, I heard from folks who live or have camps on the pond, worried that they hadn’t seen the loons for a couple days. A couple that live on the pond set out Monday to have another look and found the adults and one chick hidden in a remote part of the pond, a much better outcome than we’d feared. I visited Friday the pond Friday morning.

We’ll never know what happened to the missing chick. There are lots of threats, eagles, otters, coyotes if they get too close to shore and more. The intruding loon is also a likely suspect.

An intruding loon arrived on the pond shortly after I did. The Home Team came out from the little cove they’d been foraging in to meet the intruder, the chick hid in the brush. There was enough fog on the pond to make them have to search for him. (I’m guessing the intruder is male, the home team’s male is the more aggressive towards him, with lots yodeling to let us know he’s the male.)
The search continues… Eventually there was a brief skirmish and the intruder retreated to the far end of the pond.
After the intruder retreated, mom collected the chick to get breakfast started. Dad took up station between the family and the intruder. Things were quiet for a time.
There was a flock of tree and barn swallows feeding along the shore and gleaning insects from some of the plants. That’s one lucky bee overhead…..
With a gentle breeze, perching was precarious on the plants.
The flock is much bigger than it was a few weeks ago, this year’s chicks must have joined up. There were swallows coming and going in every direction after insects.
Mr. kingfisher briefly perched nearby while foraging.
Dad has spotted the intruder! He took a short flight to put himself between the intruder and the family.
Mom soon joined the fray. Dad is aggressively displaying and calling.
Dad lunged towards the intruder!
The intruder retreated down the pond. He didn’t leave, the fight for the territory is likely to continue.
Saturday I visited the Eastons, where both chicks are doing well and things were more peaceful. These chicks are five weeks old. They can’t dive yet, but are learning how to forage in the shallows. Mom and dad will have to provide most of their food for a few more weeks.
The chicks have learned that the water is shallow near rocks above the surface. Both chicks ventured to nearby rocks to forage on their own.
One of the adults herded the chicks into a shallow spot along the shore. The chicks were foraging on their own. The adult was foraging, eating some of the take and sharing some with the chicks.
This chick was “today years old” when it learned that sticks aren’t food.

This chick managed to catch a dragonfly in the brush. It then continued to test the brush to see what else might be good.
The other adult broke up the lesson to deliver second breakfasts. The first course looks to be a shiner.
The other adult appeared with a delicate morsel.
One of the adults arrived with a crayfish. The adult dropped the crayfish in front of the chick, making the chick catch it for itself. Once caught, crayfish have to be lined up to be swallowed tail first.
Ack! The crayfish isn’t very cooperative! It looks like it pinched the chick. The chick tossed it. The adult looking on supervised as the chick caught it again.
Mom had been off preening and trying to nap by herself for a bit. Out chick went over to her. Was it coming for some cuddles, or was it just hungry?

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Loon Fight For Territory

Today was another beautiful day to get out to check on the loons. I headed to the pond where the chicks had yet to hatch when I visited Friday. This is the westernmost pond that I’ve been watching, so these birds are the ‘Westons.’

There was a single loon floating by itself near the boat launch, and a long way from the nest. This is the pond that has had intruders challenging the home team for the territory this spring.

A ways down the pond, I found the home team lazily foraging with two chicks.

Out newest loons, one chick riding, the other is tucked under the far wing.
One of the parents attempting to deliver a 10 ounce fish to the three ounce chicks. The fish was uncooperative and the loon dropped it. The loon reached underwater for it, not sure if it caught it or if it was the fish’s lucky day.

Our family drifted out towards the middle of the pond when things got exciting.

The intruding loon surfaced right next to the parent babysitting the chicks and went for them. Loons intent on taking over a territory will try to kill any chicks. Without chicks, the holders of the territory have less to fight for. The loon doing the penguin dance is the home team male, with the intruder in front of him. After the skirmish, the home team loon returned to the family, then turned and yodeled at the intruder hiding at the far end of the pond. Only male loons yodel, so this was most likely a fight between our male and another male who wishes to take over his territory.
The male from the home team rearing up to try to scare the intruder.
The chase is on! The intruder retreats, with our male in hot pursuit. Loons in a heated territory dispute will ‘wing row’ (‘wing oar’ to our friends across the pond) across the water. If the pursuing loon can catch up, they will fight by hitting each other with their wings or their beaks. Fights go until one retreats or gets killed.
“When you strike at a king, you must kill him” – or face the consequences. The intruder tries to get away.
The fight continued up and down the pond.
Coming back for another lap….
Our male gains ground….
Loons wing rowing turn by dipping one wing into the water, the pursuing loon usually matches the move. With the spray, it can be hard to tell what’s going on.
And stay out! After chasing the intruder into the brush at the far end of the pond, our male returned to his mate and chicks. He spent several minutes yodeling in the direction of the intruder and pretty much any critter that moved around the pond. The intruder has retreated, but not left the pond. The fight may not be over.

Loon Chicks At One Week

This morning was a perfect morning to be a loon on an Upper Valley Pond. Well, I can’t know that for sure, but it was a great day to be a loon photographer… The family I visited – I’m going to call them the Eastons – had the chicks hatch Friday and Saturday a week ago.

I’m trying to follow three families again this summer. Last year, I kept trying to sort out which family we were looking at by the number of chicks. That’s not going to work this year, the first two families each hatched two chicks. (The third is due… yesterday.) So, This family, that had the two chicks last year is now the ‘Eastons.’ The second family in the last post is now the ‘Middletons.’ And the family still sitting is now the ‘Westons.’ (I’ve learned the hard way to be circumspect about where I’m working. I’m now getting something like 10,000 visitors a month and not all of them have the loons’ best interest at heart.

Let’s take a quick peek to see how the Westons are doing.

The home team was still sitting on the nest. There were two intruders on the pond, one interacting with one of the home team and another off by itself. I think this is one of the home team. The stretched neck shows the loon is alerted to a danger. In this case, the other loon is hiding and this one is trying to locate it.
This is probably the intruder on the pond. The loon was hiding up against a birch log along the shore. The black and white blended beautifully into the birch bark. Now, did the loon realized the coloring with hide him, or was this just chance? I’m betting loons are smart enough that this was intentional.
Along the way, I found a cedar waxwing gathering material for a nest. Apparently, the female does almost all the work on the first nest of the season. If they have a second brood, dad will help building or rebuilding the nest.
A hairy woodpecker peers out the front door to see what I’m about.

Moving east to this morning’s outing, one of the great blue herons on this pond usually gives me two nice photo ops a year. I think I collected one of them today.

The great blue heron wading through the fog shortly before dawn.
One adult was baby sitting while the other was off foraging as the sun rose. We’ve got on chick on back and one under the far wing.
Our chick woke up with a big yawn….
Our second adult soon appeared to serve up breakfast. Today’s menu was mostly fish – and all small enough for a chick – along with a few insect nymphs.
Both adults were soon busy foraging for the chicks.
This looks to be another insect nymph. Our chicks have greatly improved their skills at taking the handoff from their parents. Last week, they fumbled the handoff more than not, today they were on their game.
And another fish.
After a time, everyone settled in for a quick nap.
The adults were floating about 25 feet apart, each with one chick.
One of the birds on the pond last year was banded. Today was the first time I got a good look this season. Our banded bird has returned. The Loon Preservation Committee banded this bird over on Lee’s Pond in Moultonborough, NH in 2015. They were unable to determine the sex.
One of our chicks gives a foot wave. Lot’s of growing to do before that foot fits. Foot waving is thought to be a way for the bird to cool down.
After a bit of feeding, the chicks started to ride the babysitter’s back while the other adult continued to bring food for them.
Another shot of a chick riding.
One of our adults stretching.
And one of our chicks giving a stretch.

And a few more stretching shots, just because they’re fun…

Local Wildlife

Many of the birds around the marsh are nesting, there are lots of parents hauling groceries back their nests, others still sitting on their eggs. The Canada geese have mostly moved on, making the local ponds much quieter places. Let’s see who was out and about this past week.

With several nice days, painted turtles were out in force basking around the local ponds and streams.
Turtles are out laying eggs around the Upper Valley. She”ll lay between 20 and 40 eggs. The eggs will take something like 80 to 90 days to hatch. The hatchling turtles may spend the winter in the hole she dug before venturing out in the spring.
Dragonflies and damselflies are abundant this time of year. They’re great mosquito hunters and prey for many of the birds around the marsh.
Eastern kingbirds are common around the marsh. They hunt insects, including the dragonflies and damselflies. Kingbirds will often perch on stumps or brush just above the water, darting out when a meal comes in range.
An eastern kingbird hunting insects over the water in the marsh.
Eastern kingbirds nest in trees along the edge of the marsh or fields. The female will incubate the eggs and both will work to raise the chicks.
Our loons are still sitting on their eggs in the Upper Valley. They should hatch within the next few days. Please don’t approach the nest or chicks, this was taken with an 800mm lens and cropped.
Another one of the local loons sitting on the nest.

And, of course, no visit to the pond is complete without a couple photos of the loon stretching.

This loon has just finished a shift of nest sitting and gives a good stretch.

Loons Are Nesting, May 31, 2022

Many of the loons around the area have laid their eggs and are sitting on their nests. I’ve been out on several ponds this last week, checking on them and in some cases, putting out the loon nesting signs. Let’s see what I saw along the way.

Just a reminder to let the loons be. You may have the best intentions, but the loons don’t know what you’re up to and approaching them may stress them. And, while it may be harmless for you to approach the nest to have a quick peek, remember you could be the 20th person getting close enough to stress the loons. All the photos of the loons on or near their nest were shot with a 800mm lens and cropped – I’m back well over 100′.

A pileated woodpecker gives me a flyby over one of the local ponds.
An eastern kingbird poses nicely not far from one of the loon nests.
There’s a beaver lodge that I have to pass to visit the loons on one of the ponds. The beavers are sure to greet me as I pass.
When I last checked on the loons on this pond, they were still exploring real estate. The swim along the shoreline – usually on an island or check out the hummocks in the marsh. They vocalize softly while hunting for a spot. The male will eventually pick a spot. If a pair was successful hatching chicks the year before, they’re likely to pick the same spot again – if it is still available.
On my most recent visit, the loons had selected a spot near where last year’s nest was and were sitting on egg(s).
Loons’ legs are very far back on their body, making walking difficult. They’ll nest within a couple of feet of the water. This loon is climbing out of the water to take a shift sitting on the egg(s).
Both parents take turns sitting on the eggs. Females are more likely to take the night shift and spend more time sitting as incubation ends. During the day, the pair will do a handful of nest exchanges – a shift change for sitting. Often when the off duty loon returns to the area around the nest, the loons will dip their heads with the tip their bills in the water. I suspect it is a greeting, but haven’t found any documentation to back that up.
Loons coming off a shift of nest sitting will often stretch and preen a bit before heading out to forage. I think is is the loon version of a yawn, with full neck stretch.
An early morning departure for one of the loons on a local pond.
Another loon sitting on a nest. The loons on this pond were successful in raising two chicks last year, the laid their eggs in the same spot. All those black specks are black flies. It is a very good year for the flies.
Here’s the same loon leaving the nest for shift change. This shot gives you a good view of how far back their legs are.

Loons lay one or two eggs in a simple nest.
Here’s the same nest late in the day. I returned to the pond with their sign to try to keep people away from the nest. Loons will pant like dogs when they’re hot. This loon has been in direct sun for several hours and is trying to cool down.
This loon is very stressed – an otter surfaced not far from the nest while I was watching. If a loon flattens out like this when you approach, you’re too close and are bothering the loon.
If you’re sitting quietly, loons will sometimes surface close to your boat.
Of course, we’re all looking for the shot of a loon stretching…

I hope to follow a couple of loon families for the rest of the summer again. Sign up for post updates to keep up with how they’re doing.

You can learn more about loons and conservation efforts on their behalf on the Loon Preservation Committee’s site, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies site or the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation site.

We Say Goodbye To Our Chicks, May 24, 2022

The four chicks that stayed in the box yesterday held out until after lunch today. Just before 1:00, three of the four departed one after the other. The fourth left within the hour. They’re hiding in the shrubs by the deck. In years past, the parents moved them off to the brush along the side of the yard within a few hours. We’ll likely see them foraging around the yard for much of the summer. If the parents try for a new brood, these chicks may help feed the next ones.

First Chick Fledged, May 23, 2022

The first brave little chick left the nest box just before dawn this morning. By the time I realized it, the chick was hunkered down on the deck under the railing. It was easy to image it may have been wondering if it had made a mistake… The other chicks are busy looking out, but haven’t made the jump yet. Mom and dad are perched near the box calling to them. They’ve cut back on delivering food to the chicks still in the box to encourage them to get going.

We’re watching eastern bluebirds in a nest box that has a camera built in to let us watch without disturbing the birds.

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