Loon Chicks on Caspian Lake: Flying, Feeding, and Finding A Friend

Fall feeding on Long Pond in Westmore, VT. / © Lorna Kane-Rohloff

As coordinator of the Vermont Loon Conservation Project, I am the recipient of some really neat stories from our wonderful volunteers. As one example, here are two notes from volunteer Nina Sharp about her observations of loon activity on Caspian Lake in Greensboro. In the second entry, Nina observes three chicks roaming the lake together, which is a rare occurrence prior to the fall pre-migratory period. There is a chance the third loon was a one-year-old, but it could also have been an early-flying chick. The most impressive aspect of this story was the parent loon’s tolerance of the visitor. Enjoy.  -Eric Hanson

Friday, September 7, 2018
Another small miracle occurred today. While rowing around the northwest bay of Caspian Lake, I witnessed one of the juvenile loons successfully make a low altitude flight. His sister made a run across the pond, as if to fly, but did not gain air. All the while, one of the parents watched (with pride, it seemed) while her kids slowly streamed back into the bay to join her. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see this activity, since I had witnessed both juveniles making flying motions while skidding across the bay on Monday. Then, on Wednesday, I observed both chicks being fed beak-to-beak by a parent. I guessed then that they weren’t quite ready, at 11 weeks old, to fly solo. Until today. And, for the other little one, maybe tomorrow.

First flight on Long Pond (Westmore). / © Lorna Kane-Rohloff

Monday, September 17, 2018
Yesterday I saw an amazing sight. Amazing, at least for me, an amateur loon watcher. I spotted three juveniles and one adult fishing between the yellow swim raft and the shore in the northwest bay.

To put this in perspective, I’ll bring you up to date on the family dynamics of our nesting loons since that other amazing day, September 7th, when one of our juveniles learned to fly during sibling practice flights. After that day, I never again observed the nuclear family of four loons together. Nor did I ever again hear one adult loon wailing to the other parent using the “Where aaaaaaaaaare youuu” call.

More recently, both chicks had widened their territory. However, the non-flying sibling, also known as Shy Loon, had regressed in her behavior and preferentially “hid out” between the yellow raft and shore, where the chicks had spent a lot of time when they were young. I often spotted her alone back near the raft, acting like a “low rider,” with just her beak showing above water. She was sometimes joined by the flying loon, (a.k.a. Brave Loon). At other times she was joined by her parent, and sometimes by both her parent and sibling. When the parent was around, she begged piteously for food and whipped her beak across her parent’s throat. Meanwhile, Brave Loon caught his own fish. Once, when the parent was not around, Brave Loon caught a large fish and brought it over to Shy Loon.

Then, on September 16, there appeared three juveniles and one adult near the yellow raft. Shy Loon was still being fed by her parent, but was also doing some of her own fishing. Brave Loon and Shy Loon fished in close proximity to the adult, while the juvenile interloper kept a distance of about six feet from the family, except for a couple of closer forays. The interactions between the juveniles seemed ambivalent. Once, two of them touched beaks. Another time, one charged the other. Mostly they just concentrated on feeding voraciously.

Today, the area around the yellow raft is devoid of any loons for the first time since September 7th. I’m wondering if that new juvenile flew over from Long Pond. I heard that a single egg hatched there this year. Is it possible that his parents migrated, leaving him alone on that small pond and he flew over here for better fishing? And where are the Caspian juveniles now? I’ll keep you posted.

Happy loon watching,
Nina

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Comments (3)

  1. jerryspass says:

    Enjoyed the stories. Don’t leave me hanging.:-))

    Jerry McFarland……….Yep, Kent’s Dad.

  2. Ben Bruner says:

    Beautiful shot of Loon feeding chick!! Loon is the Maine Bird? Always thought the Gull was.

  3. PB Reed says:

    Your keen observations leave me wanting more.

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