Silence of the Loons

The loons have been strangely silent all weekend, and I have been singularly distracted from them, so it was not until this morning that I realized that the adults are gone.

Well, they are not totally gone, but they are in a transitional phase. I think they are starting to spend time in their staging area. Adult loons, at some point late in the season (and though I shall remain in denial the season is starting to laten) begin to gather at a specific staging area, either a part of a larger lake (as in the case of my loons) or in some intermediary pond or lake. They form a flock, and then take off and fly to their wintering grounds, which is somewhere in the ocean. (And when I say “in” the ocean, that’s pretty much what I mean. As far as I know, they just float around in the ocean all winter, not far from shore.)

The babies, which now look adult size but are still probably feeding up, stay where they were raised by the parents until much later in the season. They seem to stay here for weeks after the staged-flock adults leave. I assume what is happening here is that the parents, having taught the young everything they can, get out of the way and stop competing for food (this earlier migration, then, is a form of parental investment, if it has a cost to the adults).

The staging area for these loons is around the point to the west of the bay, and a kilometre or a bit less down, kind of in the middle of the lake. Our cousins, who have a cabin over there, can see the ever-growing flocks from their deck.

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    September 6, 2009

    Love the title of this post.

    I find it intriguing that even in our “modern” times people create natural indicators for the changing of the seasons. I think you have a neat one here.

    One question: to which ocean do your loons go?

  2. #2 Adrian Thysse
    September 6, 2009

    And I thought this would be a post about creationists…
    Just wishful thinking, I guess.

  3. #3 Stephanie Z
    September 6, 2009

    It does seem terribly early, but we were out for a river drive earlier (hills, trees, fields and water, all in easy reach), and the stressed trees were already turning color.

  4. #4 doug l
    September 6, 2009

    Glad to hear that people are seeing increasing numbers, or at least your neighbor is. For some time their numbers have been dropping presumably due (or so I’d heard) to wakes from boats washing over their nests which they instinctively build right on the waterline/shore since they’re not too good walking on land (legs so far back). this decrease was expecially pronounced in the north central states like Wisconsin and Minnesota where any lake big enough for loons (they cant take-off from smaller ponds since they need speed and distance to generate lift, or a really stong head wind) would be big enough for a motor boat for fishing or skiing of jet-skis. It doesn’t take much of wake to wash over the nest, and the small boats could negotiate even some of the more protected waters and create wakes there.
    They can winter in southern lakes and rivers as well as coastal areas. Coastal areas in the Eastern US have some nice barrier island offering some protection and food. I saw them in the Okeefenoke one winter, but they weren’t conspicuously vocal.
    cheers

  5. #5 Lynn
    September 6, 2009

    Adrian: “And I thought this would be a post about creationists…”

    Oh good. It wasn’t just me. I read,

    “The loons have been strangely silent all weekend… Well, they are not totally gone, but they are in a transitional phase. I think they are starting to spend time in their staging area…”

    and thought the post was going to be about Obamacare loons.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    September 6, 2009

    Dean: Maybe the Gulf of Mexico? I was trying to figure that out today but could not find out in the time allotted so I’m guessing.

    Stephanie: Yes, we could see a handfull of blaze around the lake, but just a handful. I think of those trees as wise-asses.

    Doug: I’ve recently written a bunch of stuff on loon, click on the “notes from up north” tag. I’m sure they could winter in freshwater, but the vast majority of them go to the sea in winter, but if they are on fresh water (espeically in the western states and maybe southern areas) that is near coastal areas. But I’ve lived more in winter areas where loons on fresh water would have to be into hockey.

    I doubt they make much noise in winter. I never heard them make any noise, that I can recall, where I’ve seen them off the cape and on the Maine coast.

  7. #7 Tomato Addict
    September 6, 2009

    Adrian: “And I thought this would be a post about creationists…”

    Me Three. I thought maybe you had found a way to shut them up for a while.

    On the other hand, the thought of creationists bobbing around in the ocean all winter is kind of funny.

  8. #8 Eric
    September 6, 2009

    We regularly get several small groups of loons in the winter here in Mystic. They float around the estuaries in pairs, but are conspicuously non-vocal. It would be interesting to find out where “our” loons summer at.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    September 6, 2009

    Eric: I have the impression that in the east, loons tend to go east for the winter. So ADK loons go to coastal maine (as to Downeasters). Some Eastern Canadian loons actually go to coastal Europe, I think.

    Mystic, I’d guess, wold be interior upstate NY, Quebec, and maybe NOrthern Michigan. But at some point those loons go south.

    At some point I’ll get a good source on loon migrations. I have some telemetry studies, but I’ve not really looked at them closely yet.

  10. #10 Monado
    September 6, 2009

    I was some way into this post before I realized that it was about birds and not right-wing, rabid Obama-haters.

    Our cormorants are still around Lake Ontario in large numbers

  11. #11 MadScientist
    September 7, 2009

    Oops … thought the title (Silence of the Loons) was for the embedded image below (S. Palin and – is that M. Bachmann?)

  12. #12 Bodach
    September 7, 2009

    I always thought that parents would show the kids where to go first, and then check out. Do the young just know where to fly later in the season?

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