Opinion: The lighter side of loon surveys
A butterfly floats in front of a chipmunk. (Chris Peterson photo)
So I’ve been volunteering to do loon surveys for the Park Service for I dunno, quite awhile now, which means that I started just about the same time they started asking for volunteers to sit next to a lake and get eaten by mosquitoes and deer flies for an hour.
An hour is the protocol for the survey and let me tell you, some surveys are better than others.
Last weekend I bushwhacked down to a favorite lake in record time, with a little help from the loons, which were calling.
I’ve been to this lake every which way but sideways over the years — the foot, the head, the side. None are all that fun and one journey years ago sent me to the doctor after a hawthorn thorn stuck in my knee
The knee swelled up and was pretty much immobile in a few hours. I went to Doc Gedlaman and he dug it out and said it would have gotten much worse and it was smart to get it out when I did. (I asked my wife to dig it out but it went beyond her internal gross meter at the time.)
But I digress.
Last weekend’s bushwhack went pretty smooth. I picked a good route and managed to squirrel around some huge root balls and then through some muck over my shins to the lake, which had three loons on it and five, count them, five trumpeter swans, which was a real bonus.
I also saw a bald eagle, an elk and roughly 500 deer flies, which bit the palms of my hands, because the rest of me was pretty much covered with clothing. (One still managed to bite me through my pants.)
The loons, however, had no chicks. I’ve never gotten pair of loons with a chick on this particular lake, though I have gotten chicks on a lake up the drainage.
The loons, as near as I can tell, fly from one lake to another when they don’t have chicks. These loons, which were waaaayyy across the lake took off and went to another lake, presumably. You rarely see loons on local rivers. They need a lot of water for takeoffs and landings, so the river has to be fairly large.
I’ve seen loons on the lower St. Mary River, but it was pretty obvious they were just floating from the main lake to the lower lake.
Having said that, once in the air they zip right along and are surprisingly fast.
Doing a loon observation is not all glitz and glamour, however.
Most of the time this is what a loon is doing: Floating on the water. Diving in the water. Or going around in circles as it preens itself in the water.
I can’t help but get distracted. On this trip I went to thee different lakes. On one lake I watched a chipmunk as butterflies and bumblebees flitted around its head, to the point where the chipmunk literally had to chase them away. I suspect someone or something may have peed right there in the gravel, as the chipmunk and the bees really wanted the minerals in that location.
At another lake I briefly saw a shrew and then watched a ground squirrel munching on grass as the goldeneye ducks chased each other around out on the lake. There were no loons that I could see.
The mosquitoes and deer flies had let up a bit by then and the ducks put on a good show. — better than most of the slop you see on TV.