Starting to think about the year’s loon nesting season, and just want everyone to know we still need volunteers to put out buoys, nesting rafts, and monitor lakes with nesting loons in Northern Michigan. Please reply here or contact me via email listed on this site if you’re interested. Also need to know who needs more buoys, rafts, etc…to help manage and protect your lake’s loons.
Tonight, April 10, the Sault Naturalists will host the film, The Dance of the Sandhill Crane. The 45-minute film will start about 7 PM, with discussion and questions after. Monthly meetings of the Sault Naturalists take place at the Bayliss Library, at 541 Library Drive in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The public is invited to attend, and the SooNats always welcomes new members. Check out their Facebook page for further information.
(This story is reproduced from a story I wrote earlier for my Planet Michigan website, and was sent to the Cheboygan Tribune.)
So I’m getting out of bed one New Year’s morning a couple winters ago…phone was thrust into my hand, and it’s Lori Pool from Round Lake, just outside of Petoskey. Lori and her husband Ron, along with about a dozen other Round Lake residents, monitor the nesting loons on that lake, squeezed between two busy highways, public boat launch, condos, jet skis, it gets busy at times. Anyway, Lori tells me Ron is coming across the ice carrying a loon. Having landed on a lake that’s been frozen for over a month! Of course, this is so surprising because loons are like those big belly seaplanes, built for landing and taking off on open water. Also, since they eat fish, a frozen lake is not the likeliest place to catch a meal.
Lori had seen the bird from her window, and had dispatched Ron to fetch it, which he had done, and was on his way back to their lakefront home.
”Couldn’t be a loon” I thought aloud.
“Oh yes it is” assured Lori, Ron having arrived back cradling the proof in his arms. Twenty minutes later, we’re pulling this loon from a cardboard box, lined with Ron’s flannel shirt, and sure enough, it was an adult loon in winter plumage…having recently molted its beautiful black and white mottled feathers.
I’ll say something about a loon that comes down on a frozen lake…you don’t want to be one. Your days, or hours, in this cold, are literally numbered; the only chance of escaping certain doom is to get back to open water quickly, an extremely unlikely scenario had this been an uninhabited lake. Like I said before, loons are evolved for diving, not walking. Forget about going from the frying pan into the fire. This loon went straight into the fire, and was doomed upon landing, were it not for Lori’s sharp eye.
We examined the loon, found no injuries, but for fear of sustaining our own from its lightening-quick bill, hastily reboxed it and decided getting it back to open water as soon as possible was the best thing, Fifteen minutes later, we arrive at Petoskey’s waterfront breakwall. To the right, churning ice chunks prohibit releasing the bird there. But a windy morning had left the west side an ice-free swath. With a kiss to the back of the head for luck, but to also shield my face from its dagger-like bill, I knelt down and released the eager loon onto an approaching swell, having arrived, it seemed, with the express purpose of receiving the loon back into its rightful element.
Once back at Round Lake, I’m curious to see where the loon came down. From the evidence imprinted in the snow, the loon landed with more a thud than a skid, excreting on impact. From there, it traveled some yards in unhurried fashion, a trench straddled by footprints, made by its belly pushing through the snow. At one point, a dog-like track intercepted the loon’s trail, where its gait turned more frantic, wingtip prints flanked its footprints, indicating the loon was running/wing-flapping in an attempt to flee its pursuer. Soon, chaotic signs of a struggle, a few frozen drops of blood, a feather here and there, and another chase. Another confrontation, then the tracks went separate ways. The dog had had enough, the blood likely the result of bill stabs to the face, the loon escaping unscathed. Ron’s footprints joined the loon’s soon after, and the story comes full circle.
Why he came down on this frozen lake we’ll never know, though loons sometimes mistake an large surface, like a field, or snowy lake, for open water; even a winding road for a river.
On Tuesday, March 6, the film, The Dance of the Sandhill Crane will be shown for the Friends of the Onaway Library. The 45-minute film starts about 1pm, and discussion will take place afterward. Admission is free, and this event takes place at the Onaway Courthouse, located in the town of Onaway on M-68.
The Round Lake loon pair finally had a successful nesting in 2017 and hatched 2 chicks in early July (a very late nest, to be sure). The video here was taken within a day of hatching. One chick was lost some time later, but the other survived the nesting season and fledged in the fall. Thanks to all the volunteers and residents for looking out for this loon family.
The film, Dance of the Sandhill Crane will show tonight, June 26 at the Carnegie Building at 451 E. Mitchell in Petoskey at 7PM. This event is sponsored by the Friends of the Petoskey Library, and is open to the public and free of charge. Follow a sandhill crane family through the season and get an inside peek into their everyday lives. The film lasts about 45 minutes, with time for questions and discussion after.
And one unhatched egg left behind. Given that this loon pair didn’t nest at all last season, this is great news to have one chick doing well. Thanks to Beth Stewart for maintaining the rafts in two coves.
The next presentation of the film The Dance of the Sandhill Crane will take place Saturday, March 25 at Woldumar Nature Center in Lansing. The film will be shown at noon, followed by questions and discussion (and perhaps a few short films), time permitting. Visit the Woldumar website for more information and directions. Hope to see you there!
Wednesday, Sept 14, at 6pm, my 45-minute film, The Dance of the Sandhill Crane, will be shown at the Cheboygan Public Library for the Straits Area Audubon Society chapter. This new film follows one sandhill crane family through the nesting season, and informs viewers where the population stands today, after coming back from extremely low numbers in the 1940s. I will take questions about cranes, loons, or anything related after the film. DVDs of the film are available for purchase for $15.
Lee Anne and I attended the August meeting of the Pickerel-Crooked Lakes Association held at the Inland Water Route Historical Museum in Alanson Saturday morning. I shared a brief account of our breeding loon restoration plan for the Round, Crooked, and Pickerel lakes chain, specifically the installation of new nesting rafts in strategic locations around the lakes to replace nesting sites lost or developed in the past.
Sticking around for the rest of the meeting, I was especially impressed with how this group encouraged their member lake residents to develop greenbelt zones along their lakeshores, which reduce erosion, filter runoff into the lake, and discourage loitering geese. Learning stuff like this is one of the many benefits to joining PCLA, making the nominal membership fee more than worth the money.