Loon Family of Upper Sysladobsis Lake
I spent last week upta camp on Upper Sysladobsis Lake. Steve and Taylor took care of the house and poultry so I could stay there to write. I get a lot of work done on the book when I’m there. I also got to watch this loon family as well as six or seven other loons for the week. This loon family consists of the two parents and two chicks. It’s hard to tell how much the chicks grew in eight days but if you look in the last phone, you can see that the parent loon has one chick all but covering its back. The other chick is bobbing along beside them. I was working on the deck when I heard quiet hoots from parents to chicks. They “talked” to them a lot while they were in front of camp.
Loons usually lay two eggs but we usually see only one chick per family on our lake. The chicks can dive when they’re two or three days old. I watched one dive, popup and preen. Oh my gosh…those huge webbed feet flapping in the air while it preened.
I think the pair nested on the other side of our cove. In June I saw one loon hanging out in the cove, then a second would appear, they’d spend time together, and then suddenly one was gone. I didn’t see where it went. Both parents spend time incubating the eggs for 24 to 31 days.
What do loons eat?
Loons eat fish, frogs, fresh water mussels and sometimes aquatic plants. I’d wondered why there were open mussel shells in the lake until I learned they’re eaten by loons. I tried to catch a smallmouth bass hanging around at the drop off near the dock. It flipped and jumped out of the water each morning and evening…until a loon caught it.
The parent loons dove for breakfast. When they resurfaced they hooted to the chicks (they were behind and to the right). I was surprised when I first learned of the distance the parents are comfortable with between themselves and the chicks. There’s at least one American bald eagle on the lake and it would be happy to snatch up the chicks. The only day I saw the eagle hunting in front of camp was a morning the loon family wasn’t in the cove.
Early on the fourth or fifth morning, as I sat on the deck in a sweater and jeans, cup of steaming coffee beside me, I heard the loons calling. It took a few seconds to realize the loon family wasn’t together. The chicks were bobbing to my left and the parents were calling to my right. The calls got close quickly, and then I realized the parents had been out for a morning flight.
Steve and I went out for a drive Saturday afternoon. On the way out I spotted one of the parents with both chicks. Look closely. One chick is on the parent’s back. I didn’t want to get close enough to stress the loons so I don’t have a great photo to use for size comparison. I swear they doubled in size in eight days. Watching the loon family was a highlight of my week.
There are more loons on the lake. I’ll have photos of them later.