Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nesting Loon...

I was able to make it back to the loon nest again, to check on her progress.  I was excited to still find her there!  A bit more familiar with the situation this time, my arrival there was under better lighting conditions.  The late day sun was warm and beautifully lit nest from the front.  I would make a few pictures, then the clouds would cover & I'd lose my light.  Every time this happened, I'd think, "well, at least I got a few images before I lost the sun".  And then, the clouds would clear.  I spent over three hours with her that evening.  She was a very cooperative & beautiful subject, although I was concerned for her well-being.  It was one of those incredibly HOT & humid days and she had been sitting in direct sun all day long.  There she was, a black bird under the blaring sun with no shade for relief.  Panting, she looked very uncomfortable.  Each time I'd get ready to pack up my gear, something would make me stay just a tad longer.  I was excited to see the male loon arrive and switched to a zoom lens to capture the pair switching off the nesting responsibilities.  I was anxious to see her get off the nest and into the cool water.  However, the male never traded places with her.  With loons, both the male & female take turns sitting on the egg.  This male however, made to attempt to releive her.  Finally, she left the nest, though only for a few minutes.  She dipped into the cool water, approached the male and then as if she couldn't convince him to trade off, she returned to the nest again.  This is the image below, where is returning to the egg.  She could not have been more cooperative.  A few minutes after settling back on the nest, she pulled her body up and turned the egg, then rested back down again.

Most people don't realize how challenging the circumstances are for loons to successfully hatch a chick or two.  Unlike ducks, their legs are positioned way back on their body.  They are unable to walk on land.  Loons only touch land to nest and even then, it has to be at waters edge so they can get on & off the nest.  They push their bodes up with their legs and thrust themselves forward.  The nests are incredibly vulnerable.  Subtle rising or dropping water levels will either flood the nest and drown the egg, or make their nest unreachable for the adult.  This is why the man-made floating nests are getting more popular.  The fact that they float, at least eliminates the water level issue. Still, they are susceptible to predators, muskrat, raccoons, eagles, gulls and so on. I haven't taken the time to see what their success rate for nesting might be, but I know its got to be rather low.  The pair I'd bee following in Acadia for three season now, didn't even try to nest this year.  Last year, the heavy rains flooded their nest.  It breaks my heart to sit with them, watch them patiently lie in the blaring sun hour after hour, day after day, only to have harm come to their egg, via circumstances beyond their control. You can tell by their behavior that they're in mourning at the loss of their chick.

Just as I was finally getting ready to leave, a man who fishes the pond came to talk with me.  He informed me that this loon had been on the nest since late May.  Gestation period for a loon to hatch is 28-30 days.  He said that the "preserve" which monitored the damn had flooded it shortly after she laid the egg.  There is no way she should still be on that egg, if it were viable it would have hatched by now.  He also told me that the male no longer switches off with her on the nest.  I'm a firm believer that the loon knows if her egg is viable or not and hope that they've laid a second egg and she knows what she's doing. The optimist that I am, is hoping this fisherman who's property borders the pond, is wrong and that she will soon be hatching a healthy little loon chick.  I will get back to check sometime next week and will hopefully have a positive update.


Unknown said...

Very good documentation. It is good to see photos of such a beautiful bird and also have someone explain to folks the process. Many discourage the photography of nest sites using the excuse that it promotes stressing the birds. I have the opposite view-we can do what you are doing and photograph and educate for appreciation. Keep up the good work.

Lori A. Davis, Photographer said...

Thanks, Jim! When I was younger, I thought I'd pursue a career in wildlife management, however the abundance of science & law required to obtain the degree discouraged me. My goal became to pursue something which I loved (photography) and use that as my tool to educate & aid in the conservation of our natural resources. Your acknowledgment of this effort is greatly appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Beautiful photos!

Mom said...

Very informative which is most helpful in understanding the habits of the loon. You have great patience which is an asset to your business. Thanks for sharing. Mom