Posts Tagged: common loon

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 Five and Six Weeks

Two of our loon families chicks are now six weeks old, the other family’s chick is five weeks. Let’s check in to see how they’re doing, as well as seeing what a few other critters are up to.

I’m going to miss posing next week, I’ll be down at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair in Sunapee. I’ll have lots of new prints and cards, I’m in booth 725, stop by and say hello.

And, yes, yes that bee hovering above the swallow from my last post did survive to buzz another day. Apparently, I should have added that to the caption…. Surprising how many people were concerned for the bee…

The Weston’s remaining chick (on the western pond I’m watching) is doing well. There was an intruder in the neighborhood again, the parents were alerted and searching for him. I didn’t see any interaction with the intruder and the chick made only brief appearances while mostly hiding in the brush. There were a few other animals around.

Hank Heron was on duty in the marsh before dawn.
A handful of painted turtles took took some time to bask.

I made three visits to the Eastons before getting good conditions for photography. The first two mornings were peaceful, this morning they faced an intruder.

There are several families of ducks on the pond, the ducklings are growing up.
As are our loon chicks. They’re growing real feathers and will soon be in their winter plumage. These are the chicks that are six weeks old.
The has been a pair of great blue herons on the pond all season. In the last week, we’ve added two more. They appear to be adults, I suspect they’re this year’s chicks.
The herons seemed to be vying with each other to pick the best spot for photos this morning.

A tough call, but I think this one picked the best spot.
One of our chicks was sleeping in when I arrived on the pond.
The sibling was taking advantage of not having a line for breakfast. The parents were busy feeding it before the sun came up.
Mom and dad are foraging, our chick is awaiting the next course for breakfast.
Shortly after sunup, an intruder flew in. Mom and dad went to challenge him, our chick flattened out to hide. (I’m guessing the intruder is a male, our home team male is the more aggressive challenging the intruder.)
The home team and the intruder ‘circle dancing.’ Loons will circle each other to size each other up.
The intruder didn’t take the hint that the pond was occupied and dad stepped things up. Wing rowing is an aggressive display to drive the other loon off.
Wing rowing is when loons propel themselves along the water with their wings, while calling.
Changing direction is accomplished by dipping one wing in the water.
After a time, the intruder was chased to the far end of the pond. Dad returned to the chicks to resume breakfast. These chicks can now make real dives, I clocked them underwater for over 30 seconds at a time several times this morning. But, they’ll still depend on the parents for food for several weeks.
Adolescent loons will pester their parents to be fed by nibbling on the parent. Mostly they nibble around the parent’s neck. I wonder how they learn this behavior. Certainly the parent’s don’t teach it to them….
Pestering paid off, dad resumed foraging for the chicks.
The chicks are learning to preen – to clean and straighten their feathers. Loons need to sort through all of their feathers regularly.
Loons have a uropygial gland at the base of their tail. This gland excretes a waxy substance that the birds used to keep their feathers waterproof. Reaching the gland and rubbing all of a loon’s feathers requires a bit of contortion.
Dad has finished preening and goes up for a good stretch.
And so does our chick….

The intruder stayed at the far end of the pond for the remainder of the time I was on the pond. I’m looking forward to getting back up to visit them again.

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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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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.

The Usual Suspects, May 6, 2022

Let’s round up the usual suspects. I finally had time to get the kayak in the water and have ventured to a couple of the local waterholes. Let’s see who I’ve found.

Geese seem to be everywhere near the water this time of year. Lots of them coming & going or squabbling over territory. Here’s one inbound.
Another goose outbound.
One of a pair of geese that landed near what another pair of geese considered their territory. This goose left in a hurry.
Go away!, he explained.
Lesser yellowlegs foraging along the bank.
A swamp sparrow surveying the territory.
A male yellow-rumped warbler, aka ‘butterbutt’ and lots of his friends have been out gleaning along the water’s edge.
Mrs. Butterbutt thinks nabbing a tasty bug is as easy as falling off a branch.
Elvis, the kingbird, is back for the season.
I was headed upstream when I met a muskrat coming downstream.
A turkey vulture circling overhead.
An adult bald eagle flew down the river, briefly silencing the geese.
A murder of crows escorting a red-tailed hawk from the premises.
The crows seemed pretty insistent that the hawk move along.
I was lurking peacefully in the reeds when this bittern let out a pump-er-lunk just a few feet from me.
This beaver escorted me from one end of his pond to the other, slapping all the way.
The beaver put on a good show.
This is just after the tail slap, just a foot remains above water.
A common gallinule appeared – briefly – from the reeds.
And a male red-winged blackbird claiming his territory.
There was a pair of loons foraging on the pond Sunday evening. That’s the beaver in the foreground. The loons seemed unimpressed by his tail slapping.
A local common loon heads out on some errand. Loons are excellent fliers, but have to run across the water for many yards to get enough speed for liftoff.
Our outbound loon had to circle the pond a couple times to gain enough altitude to get over the hills surrounding the pond.
A loon stretching. That’s the beaver in the background.

I’ll be following a couple loon families throughout the summer, along with other critters. Sign up for notifications to follow along.

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