Loon chicks are hatching around the Upper Valley. One of the pairs I follow had two chicks last Sunday morning. They were still on the nest, the chicks probably hatched Friday and Saturday. They stayed on the nest for a bit Sunday morning, before heading out to tackle life.
A note on photographing loons. Please give them their space - keep well back. Even if you aren't a threat, you may distract the parents from something that is a danger to the chicks. Loon chicks face tough enough odds, don't make it worse. These images were all taken with an 800mm lens on a crop 35mm body, comparable to a 1,280mm lens on a traditional 35mm camera - something like a 26x scope. And, they're heavily cropped. You can get good images without crowding the loons.
Here's our little family, still on the nest.
The chicks ventured into the water a few inches from the nest when the second parent brought food. Here they're working to climb back into the nest. Loons' legs are placed far back on their bodies. Perfect for swimming and flying, but they have real trouble walking on land. This shot gives a good look at how far back their legs are.
The loon sitting on the nest has been banded. The silver band on the close leg has a nine digit number to give the bird a unique identifier. But, it is next to impossible to read unless you catch the bird again. Loons are banded with two bands per leg, with different colors to increase the odds of being able to ID the bird without catching it. This bird has green over silver on the starboard side, yellow over green on the port side (way back on the left of the photo). Traditionally, loon banders put the silver band on the right leg if they band the bird as an adult, the left if they band a chick. I've forwarded the photo to the Loon Preservation Committee, they may recognize the bird.
The chicks seemed to grow a bit restless, venturing further from the nest after each feeding. Eventually, the loon on the nest decided it was time to go. The family probably will not return to the nest.
After leaving the nest, the parent that had been sitting got a well-deserved stretch.
Loons are very attentive parents. Both loons will guard and feed the chicks. They spell each other, a few times a day one parent will wander off to forage, preen and occasionally fly a couple laps around the pond.
Loon chicks have some sibling rivalry and will occasionally squabble.
But, mostly they eat and look cute.
One of the parents bringing a crawfish to the chicks. This crawfish was too big for the chicks to handle. They both made valiant efforts to swallow it, but it was too big. They kept dropping it. The parent probably retrieved and offered again it 10 times before just eating it.
After the crawfish, the parents tried what appeared to be damselfly and dragonfly larva. Which worked much better.
The parents keep a close eye on the chicks when they're small, one of the parents is usually within a few feet of them.
The chicks will hitch rides on both parents' backs, often tucking in under the wings to keep warm.
Check back again soon, I'll be following these and two other pairs of loons throughout the summer.