Over the past several days, I've had a chance to stop in to visit both the loon families I've been following in the Upper Connecticut River Valley area. I was able to visit the family with two chicks four times, the other family once. I'm way behind on editing the pix, but here's a first look to see how everyone is doing.
Let's start with our one-chick family. When these were taken on July 23, the chick was something like 33 days old. The chick looks to be doing well. It has grown notably, is feeding well and learning to loon. It even managed to catch a snack all by itself when I was there.
You can see that all the chick's bills are changing shape, getting longer and pointier.
They've still got some growing to do if they're going to fit into their feet.
Adolescent chicks will pester adults when they're hungry - which seems like most of the time they aren't sleeping. The chicks will nibble the adult, usually around the chest or neck until they get results.
The chick's wings aren't yet up to providing the lift needed to fly. Actually, the little guy is probably just stretching.
Sometimes you get lucky and the loons do something interesting in some nice light.
And sometimes, they just disappear.
It had been 11 days since I visited the family with two chicks on July 22. The chicks were 33 and 34 days old and doing well.
There was a visitor to the loon's pond just before sunrise. Mrs. Moose walked out of the woods and into the pond and swam across the pond. I was in her path, she ignored me, but I made good time getting out of her way.
This shot gives you an idea of why loons look they way they do. On a day with just a slight wind, the pattern on their backs blends nicely with the highlights on the water. And, being white on the bottom, would help them blend into the sky if you were below and looking up.
The chicks will often, and the adults occasionally, swipe at the water with their bill by shaking their head back and forth. My bet is that this is the loon equivalent of blowing your nose - a way to clear their sinuses.
The adult has spotted an immature eagle flying over the pond. Before the adults swam off towards the eagle, they herded the chicks close to my boat. I've seen this several times over the years. It is likely that the loons believe that raptors want to stay well clear of people and boats, giving the chicks safe harbor.
With a threat overhead, loon chicks flatten themselves on the water. This makes their profile smaller, making it harder for a predator to spot them.
I made it back to the pond on Saturday July 24 to check on them again. There was only one adult on the pond when I arrived about 0430. It is not uncommon for loons to wander off for a time. I imagine they just need a break to recharge. I've visited ponds where a loon was off on a break, but don't recall ever seeing one spend the night away. I took a good look around the pond to make sure the missing loon wasn't in distress.
Here's a nice portrait of the adult on duty and the chicks.
That's a nice-sized brook trout. It took some work to get it down, but the chick was up for the challenge. I'm not quite sure where a chick that small puts a fish that big when it swallows it.
Having lots of chores do to around the house Saturday evening, I made the obvious choice and returned to the pond. Our absent loon was still absent and the chicks spent much of the evening napping.
This little painted turtle was basking in the afternoon light.
And, Mrs. Moose returned. Her presence attracted a flotilla of boats - 8 at one point. She didn't seem to care. One of the guys in a canoe asked if we were sure this was a moose. I have no earthly idea what else it could have been, but yes, yes we were sure.
The moose spent about an hour browsing along the shore, above and below water.
On July 27, I made it back before sunup, curious to see if our wayward loon had returned. My arrival was delayed by Mrs. Moose who was sauntering up the one lane road to the pond, stopping to browse as needed. She was going to do what she needed to do, and I could wait, thank you very much. She eventually wandered off into the brush and I was able to continue.
Both adults were back on the pond and working hard to feed the chicks. One takes a quick break to stretch.
Loons eat crayfish - if you mange to see a loon eating, it is probably eating a crayfish. They swallow a lot of their prey underwater, but the crayfish need to be lined up to slide down tail first to avoid the pinchers. Loons will often bring them to the surface and toss them to get them lined up properly. The loons I've watched raise chicks before would usually bring fish to the chicks, with a few crayfish mixed in. This pair of loons seem partial to crayfish. Not sure if it is a personal taste or if crayfish are just more common than fish this year. Here's an adult inbound with a good-sized crayfish.
And the handoff.
Both adults heading inbound, each with a crayfish.
This turned into a race, with the adult with the smaller crayfish diving to get ahead.
Here's a chick with the bigger of the crayfish. It looks like the crayfish was uncooperative and pinched the chick.
The crayfish's strategy almost worked, the chick spit it out. The victory was short-lived, the chick hunted the crayfish down and swallowed it.
After a nap, one of our chicks stretches.
I tried again on the 29th, heading up before sunup. Mrs. Moose ran across the parking lot and the boat launch before heading into the woods. The forecast was for mostly sunny, but that didn't work out. There were heavy clouds and the haze from the western wildfires. With much light, I mostly sat and watched. But, I did, sorta, catch an interaction between a loon and a family of geese. The goose family, two adults and a mostly grown gosling, have been around all summer. Mostly, the families ignore each other. I did see the single loon tending the chicks on the 24th drive the geese back at one point. But, this morning the geese were minding their own business swimming away from the chicks, probably about 600' feet and going way when one of our loons popped up to tell the geese to be gone. I imagine that having a ticked off loon appear out of nowhere to rear up over you must be a terrifying experience. The geese decided to move along.
I'll be down at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Fair in Sunapee from August 7th to the 15th. Come on by and say hello. More info about the Fair at the League's site, NHCrafts.org