Bittersweet Reality

Posted by Jane N on

Hello Everyone,
Well here it is the end of the summer. I thought I would give everyone an update on the Lake Francis Loon family. Loons mate for life and this particular pair has been trying to nest in our cove for the last few years. Unfortunately, they have not been very successful. The water level in Lake Francis is controlled by a dam so it is constantly changing. For some reason the Loons had picked one of the worst places on the lake to try and build a nest, right by the mouth of the Connecticut River where it flows into the lake. Loons are very awkward on land and rarely leave the water, they will build a nest on a small island or clump of greenery close to shore. Because of this location, the nest has flooded and the eggs have been destroyed the last few years. Finally this year they were successful in hatching an egg. It was uncertain for a while, the water level rose suddenly and nearly swamped the nest in June.
Also this year the Loons had some human help, I am a Society for Loon Protection volunteer and have been keeping records and sending updates to the State Biologist. Thankfully there was funding available and I was able to have a floating sign placed near the nest warning boaters to stay clear. I was also able to get a floating nest platform that will be installed after the Loons leave for the winter. Hopefully, they will use it next year, thus solving the problem of their nest flooding out.
Because the Loon population has been decreasing on our NH lakes the State has been working to eliminate the use of lead fishing weights because the Loons ingest them and die of lead poisoning. The Loon Society banded the Loons so they could be followed and offer more insight to their protection needs. I wasn't so keen on them banding the Loons, I was worried it would be too stressful on them or hurt them. But they did it at night, they quietly floated up to the sleeping Loons in a kayak (Loons don't sleep on land) netted them, placed a band on their leg and released them, all in a matter of minutes. They are now officially known as the Lake Francis State Park Loons. I'm still not sure how I feel about them being banded, it means they aren't so wild anymore. But in the long run, if it will help save our Loons I think they would be OK with it.
The egg hatched in mid-June to much fanfare by the adult Loons who yodeled loudly throughout the night and kept a close guard on the nest till the chick completely emerged from the egg. Once the chick hatched it took to the water, riding on the back of it's parents. The baby is about the size of a tennis ball and spends it's first few weeks riding on a parent's back. It never touches land. The parents take turns carrying the chick and fishing for food, they never leave it alone. At about 3 weeks old the chick begins to swim along side of it's parents but is still never left alone. I have watched the chick grow throughout the summer.
There was one very frightening encounter when I feared the chick was done for. I was in the cabin when I heard a lot of noise on the lake. The Loons were calling loudly and I could also hear the call of a Bald Eagle. I ran down to the edge of the lake and watched as the two Loon parents fought off a Bald Eagle that was diving for the baby loon. I could see the Eagle with it's talons stretched out reaching for the baby loon. The baby loon can't dive underwater to escape like the adults can, so it is in danger from predators from above. The parents both backed up to the baby loon keeping it close between them but the Eagle wasn't giving up easy. It was one of those situations when you want to turn away but can't stop yourself from watching. The parents flapped their wings and lunged at the Eagle each time it swooped down trying to get the baby. They battled on the water for a while, I could see feathers flying, but in the end, the parents drove the Bald Eagle away. Their baby was safe.
The young Loon is now the same size as it's parents, though it won't have it's adult plumage till next year. The Loon family will be heading south soon. The Loons of NH winter in Great Bay, there the water never completely freezes so they can still fish for food. Next Spring the parents will return and nest again in our cove, but I won't see the young loon again. The young Loon will return to our lake but not our cove. The young Loon will seek out a mate and start it's own family somewhere else along Lake Francis. It is a bittersweet reality. The parents have risked their own lives to raise their young, then they send it out to fend for it's self. But so goes the cycle of nature, over and over again.
Happy Birding
Current Big Year Total...........209

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