Outdoor Adventures with Gary Lee - Vol. 13
Loon banding is over for this year and we again saw the sun go down and come up three days straight, which makes for long nights in the fog and short days sleeping in the sunshine. We missed getting wet in thunderstorms any night this year. It rained between stops, but never on us, as the roads were wet when we traveled. We saw lots of stars, as most nights were clear with lots of shooting stars, some going across the night sky where you could call it out and others could see it.
We had a group from the WCS that worked at the Bronx Zoo. They helped with blood taking in the boats and blood processing during the daytime. Ken Huth, Supervisor of the Ornithology Department at the Zoo, came with them and is developing loon catching techniques and doing very well. Keith Grasman, and his crew of three young lady students from Calvin University in Michigan, has come for several years to help with the banding, and he gets some blood samples for his program. He does much testing of gulls and terns on the Great Lakes with his team before coming east to help us. He is a great navigator and boat and canoe operator, but he says not a paddler. His team jumps in most anywhere photographing, lighting, taking notes or holding birds. Some of the other summer loon watchers help on some nights, whenever they are asked to step in.
The day before I went, I had a call that the loon recovering from a fight in a private lake, which I moved it to Quiver Pond, was attacked by dogs while it was resting. I went over to check on it and found it dead onshore. That bird will be sent to the pathology lab to see just what it died from. It seemed to be doing ok for a few days and eating newts and polliwogs along the shallow shoreline areas. It did get stabbed right in the breast by another adult loon in a territory fight. There had been many of these fights this year, as many pairs don’t have chicks and they are traveling to other lakes to fish. There, they bump into a pair that has chicks and a fight breaks out, some to the death.
We started our second three-day banding with a trip to Cranberry Lake where the day crew found three pairs with chicks on the big lake. We got there just after dark and traveled up the lake to the first territory in a complete fog. We did hear and see a loon, but no chicks were located. We saw the bird a few times and it seemed to be leading us away from the chicks, but wouldn’t hold for the light. It dove and we never saw or heard it again. The other team went up Dead Creek Flow, looking for another pair and they were unable to find that one in the fog either. We traveled to the last territory that had chicks and never heard or saw any birds there either. The night was a bust as the sun came up, which gave away our cover with no loons seen or caught. It does happen, but it makes for a long night.
The second night was visitor night at Green Pond over by the fish hatchery where the pair had two four- week old chicks. There was quite a crowd watching and we went out and zipped up the female on the first try and brought her back to shore. She was banded, but there were lots of comments from the crowd which had gotten bigger. We went back out with a new lighter and caught the two chicks after missing the male a couple of times. We brought them back to shore and there were lots more oohs and ahhs from the crowd and some got to hold a chick. We released the female and then took the chicks out onto the water to get them back with the adults. We sat for a few minutes and heard both adults with the chicks. We turned on the light and could only find the female with the chicks. The male was not going to be seen again, so we moved on to the next lakes.
That was Newton Falls Reservoir up by Cranberry Lake and Chaumont Pond, just across the road where the fog could be cut with a knife. We heard several beaver slapping their tails and even heard a couple of trees fall onshore after being cut by the beavers, but our canoe never saw or heard any loons except at other lakes. The other canoe got close to the first pair, but lost them in the dense fog, never to be seen again. After three hours of searching, we gave up at sunrise with the loons winning that time.
Night three we started on Piercefield Reservoir, just north of Tupper Lake, where there was a pair with very young chicks and the fog wasn’t too bad yet. The other boat found the female, but she eluded them. They heard the male yodel back where we came from, so we went back down and bumped right into the male with two chicks on his back. I zipped him up on the first shot and we put him on Abigail’s lap, who had held a loon before so I could get the chicks off the water. I picked up the chicks and the other boat came down to process the adult. It didn’t take very long, as the male was already banded, and we had the family back into the water and together again, like it never happened.
We then traveled to Middle Saranac Lake via the boat launch on Upper Saranac Lake through the lock into the Middle Lake. The fog was again so thick you could cut it with a knife, and just before we got into the first territory, we bumped into a female loon, but I missed catching her. We searched the territory for about an hour and the other crew went into Weller Pond, where there was another pair with chicks, but they found nothing. We were just about ready to quit searching, as daylight wasn’t far off, and I gave a barred owl call. Not more than five hundred feet away the pair called, and we heard the chicks. We moved in and I caught the male. We put that loon on John DiGiacomo’s lap, and he said “I’ve never held a loon before”, so it was time he learned how, as the female was right there in front of the boat with the chicks. I think she was the one I missed earlier, as she wouldn’t hold for the light. The other boat came down from Weller and we processed the male as daybreak came to the lake. We traveled back down through the lock channel, as the sun rose and the fog hung in the surrounding mountains. This ended another banding season.
Lots of second loon nests are just coming off the nest with chicks so watch out for these little guys on the water while you are out and about. See ya.
Running in at daylight Middle Saranac
Weighing the last male loon
Ken Huth & Nina Schoch taking blood
Loon release on Quiver Pond