Nature’s Denouement

Due to today’s inclement weather, I postponed a Tracking expedition and thought it might be a good day to become a couch potato. But still, my feet itched to get outside as the raindrops fell.

And then a text message arrived: “Potential loon trapped in the ice; rescue happening on Lower Bay.” I was in my truck and on my way before I even knew the exact location.

As I drove, rain changed to big slushy balls that struck the windshield with noisy inkblot-shaped splats. I pulled into a parking area to check on the intended meet-up point and learned I was a bit early, so I went for a walk. All around me, the forest was alive with sounds–of wet snow striking marcescent leaves, and birds chirping as they flew from branch to branch. I’d hoped to meet an old friend, Argee, but he was nowhere in sight.

By the time I did join the rescue group, they were already loading an aluminum boat into the lake.

The Lower Bay of Kezar Lake had sealed over this past weekend and was coated with an inch or more of ice.

Thus the need for the rescue mission. An immature loon got caught by the sudden freeze. Thankfully for it, Susan Clout, a local resident, noticed its situation and put out a call for help.

Responders included Heinrich and Linda Wurm, Paul Buckley, Steve Lewis, and Jim Buck.

Donning life jackets, their only gear: paddles, a net and a box. It all seemed so simple. Paddle out, coo to the bird as it might talk to another, and either make open water for it to fly (loons need at least a quarter mile for take off, this one had a circle that maybe measured twenty feet–it was difficult to tell from the shore) or capture and release it on an open section of the lake. As one of the text messages stated about the plan: Evolving.

The task of breaking the ice was daunting and though it looked like they were crossing the Potomac, all they really wanted to do was maneuver part way across the bay.

Because it made sense for the person in the bow to stand and break ice as the sternman paddled, stability became an issue and within minutes the boat returned to shore and a third passenger climbed aboard.

Though you can see the circle of open water and it may appear close by, it was all a matter of perspective and they had a long path to create.

Meanwhile, back on shore, those of us who remained behind and felt like we might need to rescue the rescuers, were entertained by Susan as she sang the most delightful lines of a song she’d been writing about the loon’s dilemma.

Back on the water, or rather, ice, progress was slow.

And still the loon swam, occasionally calling out. We interrupted its voice to mean, “I see you. Keep coming my way.”

On board the SS Icebreaker, oarsmen shifted positions because it was tiring to chop continuously.

We kept assuming they were making headway given their position.

And they were. But they still had a long way to go. After 75 minutes, with probably two more hours separating them from the loon, and a cold rain falling, they decided to turn around and hope that higher temps and maybe a breeze in coming days will do the trick. All are hopeful.

I was invited to the scene because my friends’ thought it would make a good story. In the end, my story is nothing compared to the one Nature is writing. She, apparently, has Her own plans for the denouement. We can’t wait to read how She resolves this matter.

Update: November 21, 2019

And here is the rest of the story as Heinrich interpreted it for us: “The loon we were aiming our mission toward took off this morning! Just as the Game Warden showed up the loon started flapping its wings and headed east toward the Narrows. Amazing!

created by dji camera

Unfortunately these remnants were left near the other open space
where a loon had been sighted before.

I later learned that two Bald Eagles were spotted near the loons.

Nature’s Denouement: Find a balance.

Loon-atic loon antics

I wasn’t sure what to expect this morning when I drove to an undisclosed body of water for a boat trip to see an eagle chick in a nest. The reality was that though I’ve seen many eagles and twice had to cover my head with my hands for fear I was about to be dive bombed, only to discover the bird quickly grabbed a fish not far from my location, I’ve never seen an eagle nest.

l1-pontoon boat

And so, I was graciously met at a camp road and escorted to the dock, where we boarded a pontoon boat for the expedition.

l2-common loon

Within minutes of leaving shore, we spied several common loons and paused to watch them swim . . .

l3-preening loon

and preen. Feathers are important to loons and all other birds, for they provide protection from weather, including rain and sun. Aerodynamics also come into play, for the feathers give the body a smooth contour and help reduce drag in the air. To preen, the loon grasps a feather with its bill and works on it from base to tip, getting rid of oil, dirt, and parasites. The bird then repositions the feathers, straightening out the barbs on either side of the shaft–thus providing a smooth, weatherproof coat. To aid in the weatherproofing, the bird collects oil from a gland on top of the base of its tail and spreads it over the smooth feathers.

l4-eagle nest

At last we pulled away, my hostess (M) and host (S) eager to show me the eagle nest and a young fledgling. With apt directions, they pointed out the tree and told me where to focus the binoculars and then my camera. I was pretty sure I found the spot.

l6-eagle nest

But alas, a few minutes later they realized they were pointing to the wrong tree. A trip refund was surely in order, but . . . they regrouped, scanned the tree tops again and found the actual nest. Though it was difficult to tell from our location below and because they may have been hunkered down, we didn’t think we saw any birds, but we maybe we did. It apparently wasn’t feeding time and mom and pop were nowhere to be seen.  M  and S were disappointed, but I wasn’t. My first eagle nest! And maybe some babes, but even if not . . . my first eagle nest!

l7-crazy loon

Suddenly, splashes of water caught our attention and we turned in our seats to focus on the action closer to the boat.

l8-crazy loon

A loon undulated in the water in a most frantic fashion, moving back and forth in about a ten-foot space.

l9-crazy loon

Whatever was it doing? We panicked. What should we do?

l10-crazy loon

Each time it pulled its head up, we noticed its beak was wide open. Was there a fishing hook stuck in its mouth? S pulled out his cell phone. Who should he call? Kappy Sprenger, a local wildlife rehabilitator? Or the Maine Warden service?

l11-crazy loon

Again and again, it thrashed on top of the water and our concern rose with each movement.

l12-crazy loon

We each developed our own scenario, none of them ending with a positive outcome.

l13-loon family

Meanwhile, another adult approached with two youngsters in tow.

l15-good in mouth

The second adult found a smidgen of food to dapple in the water and offer to the chicks.

l16-plant or fish?

Fish are the primary food source for loons and they’ll catch whatever species they can. But . . . they also feed on crayfish, aquatic insects, and sometimes vegetation.  What we saw being offered was indecipherable.

l17-bigger fish

Meanwhile, the thrasher came up with a big catch. Had it been going after a fish all that time. Was it not the victim, but rather the predator? Indeed. But why was its mouth always wide open and not closed like a spear? Was it chomping on the fish? How could that be? Loons can’t break up their food the way mammals do, for they have no teeth.

l18-gulp

Whatever the answers to our questions, the outcome, or rather, income was obvious and the loon quickly consumed its prey.

l19-down the throat

Do you see the intake making its way down the bird’s throat? Swallowed whole, the fish would be ground up in the loon’s gizzard, a muscular structure that is part of the a bird’s stomach.

l21-taking cover

At the same time, the other adult felt the need for a shower, while a curious chick peered below a wing. To shower, a loon rises up and splashes.

l22-shaking off the water

A vigorous body shake follows–it’s all part of their maintenance routine. The splashing and shaking help to settle their feathers back into the proper place, whether for beauty during mating season, or weatherproofing the rest of the year.

l21a

And then it was time to peer into the water again, ever in search of the next meal.

l23-chicks

We learned something new today, M, S, and I: That what we might interpret as loon-atic behavior may actually be otherwise. Perhaps the lesson was meant more for the chicks than us, but we were suddenly wiser.

Thank you, M & S, for sharing your special place with me. And here’s to tomorrow’s 2018 Maine Audubon Loon Count. I suspect I won’t see any loons in the area I’m assigned to, and if I do, it will certainly not compete with today’s crazy loon antics.

Homecoming Mondate

After months of waiting and an arduous drive, we arrived at our camp on Moose Pond late yesterday afternoon. It’s that anticipation following months away and the five mile road trip that always make the final turn into the driveway so sweet.

m-night sky 2

We unpacked and put everything away, ordered a pizza because our Sunday night tradition of making our own takes a hiatus for a couple of months, and then settled on the porch as dark clouds gathered, their hues enhanced by the water’s reflection. And then we spotted a friend from across the pond jumping into his boat and pulling away from his dock. He raced south and we thought perhaps he hadn’t seen the lightning that was visible to us. Suddenly the wind increased dramatically and then the rain came. We moved indoors and checked windows and looked to our south and assumed Brian’s boat was fast enough to get beyond the storm. When the rain began to teem, we realized he hadn’t outrun it for two boats came flying back into the North Basin, his being one. We knew he was soaked and probably had a story to tell. Such is life on the pond, where our focus switches from world news to the news of our immediate world.

m-loon off the dock

And so we awoke this morning to the announcer of said news–a pair of common loons calling. We answered as we headed outdoors.

m-robber fly 1

Of course, being back meant we had chores to complete, but most of them were outside. I finished mine first and so I began taking inventory–greeting old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. The first was a robber fly posed by the porch door.

m-robber fly side view

Its compound eyes aren’t as large as those of a dragonfly, but still . . . they are large enough and allow this mighty predator to spot and catch prey more than a foot away in a split second. I wanted to see it, but wasn’t privy. Instead, I admired his body features.

m-flesh fly

Then I headed to the pond. My first find beside the water was a flesh fly–and I wondered what dead insects his bright red eyes may have feasted upon.

m-familiar bluet 2

More to my liking was the sight of a male familiar bluet damselfly. I can’t see enough of these and I think it has something to do with the color blue–especially when it contrasts against a dark green leaf.

m-chalk-fronted corporal 1

As I stood there, a perennial favorite appeared. It seems the chalk-fronted corporal dragonfly and I like the same habitats for wherever I go, at least a half dozen are also there. Perhaps that means that wherever I go, I’m always at home.

m-lancet 1

And then another dragonfly caught my eye and I recognized it as another familiar friend,  a lancet clubtail. But what surprised me was that a damselfly, possibly a familiar bluet, was exploring the underside of the same leaf.

m-lancet 2

That is . . . until I looked again.

m-lancet 3

And noticed the bend in the damselfly’s abdomen.

m-lancet 5

And watched the dragonfly move the damsel body with one wing attached and another dropped.

m-lancet 7

Ever so slowly . . .

m-lancet 8

the damselfly . . .

m-lancet 9

disappeared . . .

m-lancet 10

until only a bit of its abdomen,

m-lancet 11

a leg part and the wing were left. Wow. I felt privileged to have observed such a meal. Of course, I was sad for the damselfly, but also thankful for the energy it passed on to the dragonfly.

m-loon in Sweden, Maine 1

At last, my guy’s chores were completed. We pulled out the kayaks and paddled north to Sweden. Sweden, Maine, that is. And in the shallows of the northern-most end of the pond (Moose Pond is actually nine-plus miles long), we again met the loons.

m-eastern kingbird

A trillion damselflies and dragonflies darted about, some in mating position. And the kingbirds hovered above the water before making quick dips to retrieve insects.

m-rose pogonia driftwood garden 1

We floated around and noted that the water was deep enough for us to get almost to the very tip of the pond. At the same time, the old stump islands delighted us with their gardens.

m-rose pogonia 1

And within some of those islands another delight–rose pogonia in bloom.

m-looking south 2

At last it was time to leave our favorite section of the pond where all kinds of life thrived, knowing that we’ll return time and time again.

m-red winged blackbird

As we moved along, a red-winged blackbird began to turn circles above us–squawking as he showed off his shoulder patches in glaring scarlet form. He landed on a cattail and we paddled on, assuming there was a nest nearby. We also spotted Mrs. Red-Winged, who chose to go grocery shopping at that time. Even though we were headed away, the Mr. came after us one more time, so close that we could almost touch him. He was definitely a good dad–protecting the nest and/or young.

m-painted turtle 1

Continuing south, a painted turtle surprised us by staying atop a rock until we passed by, as if he wanted to welcome us back (or so we believed–after all, this is our story).

m-camp 1

A couple of hours later and we returned to camp sweet camp, to this place that has marked many occasions in our journey together since we first started dating in 1986.

Camp will always represent a homecoming to us, made especially sweet when we can share a Mondate here as we rediscover the world that surrounds it.

 

 

 

Looney Tunes

I was like a kid anticipating Christmas this morning when I grabbed my life jacket and headed out the door for the Maine Audubon Loon Count. While sipping coffee on the porch earlier, I’d heard a couple of hoots come from the middle basin. The hoot is the call a loon uses when it wants to announce its presence or locate others.

This is my first year participating in the event, which occurs annually on the third Saturday of July. It was misty when I slipped the kayak into the water, but I decided to bring my camera along just in case. The count traditionally begins at 7am, when about 900 volunteers across the state gather data about the status of Gavia immer, the common loon.

As I approached the causeway to begin my tour of the western side of the upper basin, I heard a quiet motorboat behind me. My fellow counter, P.B., and I chatted briefly and then decided to meet about a mile and a half to the north and compare notes.

The breeze was with me making for an easy paddle as I scanned the water, looking for that iconic bird that resembles no other on our Maine waters. I saw four ducks. And four fishermen.

P.B. and I met up as planned and had the same results. No loons this morning, though during the week we’d both seen a pair and a single loon diving.

For those of us who are looney about loons, we had great hope for the nesting couple on the upper basin this year. Last year, for the first time in a long time, they successfully hatched two chicks and raised one. We learned from another observer (S.F.), who has been a long-time Audubon counter, that the second chick somehow managed to make its way through the middle basin to the lower basin and joined another family raising one chick. An amazing feat to be sure.

chicks

These are last year’s chicks–about two days old.

This year, one chick hatched on July fourth, was seen by some (not me) for a couple of days and has not been spotted since. And the second egg apparently half-hatched.

What happened to the first chick and why did the second die? We don’t know. We do know that boats were harassing the young family. But we also know that turtles and eagles and other predators exist on the lake. And it was Independence weekend. Could fireworks have had anything to do with the loss of the second chick? The loons were certainly not impressed with the noise that night as was evidenced by their tremolo alarm calls.

moose pond

Back to this morning. The clouds thickened as I paddled home.

rain drops

It was a gentle sprinkle at first.

sabattus

Then the wind picked up and it rained a bit harder. But . . . I could hear a loon, so I paddled frantically while scanning through water drops. Eyeglass windshield wipers would be a great invention.

Not a loon in sight. I did enjoy breakfast with a few of the hearty volunteers (thanks S. & H.) and learned that one couple saw at least five loons and one still sitting on a nest that traditionally produces chicks at a later date. May be something to that–but how do you tell loons they’d be better waiting a week or two to nest.

As I went through my photos from last summer, I found a few that I thought worth including.

loon1

loon 2

loon3

loon 4

loon 5

loon 6

loon 7

Four hours after the official count, it’s no longer raining and a loon has been fishing about a hundred yards from our dock.

Maine Audubon offers the following tips to protect the loons. Education is the key.

~Obey no-wake law within 200 feet of shore
~Use lead-free tackle; alternatives are made of steel, tin and bismuth
~Dispose of fishing line so it does not get tangled in a loons’ feet or bill
~If you live on a lake, use phosphorus-free fertilizer and plant shrubs as a buffer along the shoreline to reduce run-off
~If you see a loon on a nest, keep your distance and watch with binoculars
~Keep garbage out of reach of loon egg predators, like skunks and raccoons

Two more glimpses from last year before I sign off.

loon up close

red eye

These were taken as my guy and I kayaked and the loon suddenly surfaced beside us.

Always a thrill to see them and hear their looney tunes.