It's that time of year again, though a bit later than usual due to cooler weather. I'm speaking of loon families. Thanks to friends and family, I'm enjoying a rather unique opportunity to compare them in two different parts of the state.
Having grown up with them, the birds are more than a nice picture of our state bird. Their call is evocative of carefree summers, country lakes, camping trips, fishing excursions - all the best things from youth. They were rarely more than a distant form on the water and that wild set of calls, however. This year my brother has been sending me pictures of his local loon family. Each year they set out a floating platform in their lake bay for nesting. Just last week he sent pictures of a 2-day old chick with a parent, being fed or just swimming along and yawning after a strenuous day for a chick. Modern photography equipment and his well-honed skills make the pictures as good as being right next to the birds, details sharp and clear.
Recent news reports have warned of black flies up in the northern part of the state driving parents off the nests before eggs have a chance to hatch, requiring a second nesting. Here, at least, is proof of one successful brood, just outside of Bemidji. The baby is a dark grey fuzzball in contrast to the black and white checkerboard of its parent.
This weekend friends invited Steve and me out fishing on their new pontoon boat. For the record, I never touched a pole, having no license this season. (I figure next year, being retired, there will be plenty of opportunities to fish, making the cost of license worth it.) There was solid cloud cover, ideal fishing weather, and the fish didn't care if they were offered leeches or worms. While everybody else was reeling in crappies, sunnies and one small bass, I was reveling in just being out on a lake in great weather, and conversation in good company. And of course, the lake had its own loon family. We were told they were there as our friends had watched them both from their dock and while out checking out the various fishing spots. We heard them go through several of their calls when one boat got a bit close early in the afternoon. Luckily the boaters were sensible and traveled slowly past and out of the area.
Mostly the loons were a set of three specks in the distance, diving reducing their numbers to two, one, or zero periodically. Once we were close enough to observe them more closely. The baby is just over half the size of the adults, and mostly reddish brown with a white bib. I hadn't seen a young loon this age up close before, and the brown was a surprise to me. I figured they would go from dark grey fuzz to black and white feathers. Apparently not.
The loons were not the only birds on the lake. One great blue heron flew across the lake near the pontoon, and just after launching and passing a wide swath of cattails, some kind of brown duck with a black crest, almost a mohawk of feathers, startled up from the reeds and settled back into them again, out of sight. Somewhere in the distance a bluejay called briefly. And bullfrogs sounded from all sides of the lake as we traveled around in search of new fish to feed.
It was a great day, ending too soon as all great days do, but with promises of future repeats.