Posts Tagged: loon

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?

Another Visit With The Loons

This morning provided better weather for visiting the loons than Friday. I headed out before dawn to see what they were up to. The chicks were ten weeks old this weekend. They’re mostly foraging for themselves now, they can make prolonged dives. But they’re still happy to have their parents rustle up a meal for them.

The morning started with both chicks trying to fly. They’re not yet ready. They give a good try, running across the water trying to gain enough speed to lift off. They still need to grow their flight feathers a bit more before they can takeoff. Soon. Very soon….
Here’s our other chick giving flying a try.
Great form, just not enough lift to get him airborne.
Most attempts to take off are followed by a stretch.
Or, maybe, they’re just taking a bow.
Once again, breakfast was primarily crayfish. I think this is dad inbound with one for the chicks.
Here’s another crayfish for one of the chicks.
The chicks have gotten very good at taking the handoff from their parents, they rarely fumble the food, something they did often when younger.
After feeding, the chicks took a quick nap.
One of our chicks doing a foot wave. I’m not sure why they do this. I’ve heard it suggested that it is to cool their legs and feet. But, water is a better conductor for heat, so I’m skeptical of that explanation. I wonder if it is just a way to stretch their legs.
And each chick gave a good stretch after waking up.
A stretch with a shake of the head.

Know an organization in need of programs? I’ve got several PowerPoint shows, one on the surviving steam locomotives in the US, visiting the puffins on Machias Seal Island, one on getting started with wildlife photography and one on loons. For educators, I’ve got a program about career opportunities in photography. Email for more info.


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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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.

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