Late October waterfowl

These female Mallards moved off from a group of about 50 female Mallards that have been sunning themselves on the skinny beach near the cut-through at the island in the lower lake. The big group is making a bit of Long Lake history. A group like this hasn’t been seen at least in the dozen years we’ve been on the lake. The group sits, splashes about, dabbles around, and just generally does all things duck all day long. Very weird. It seems like they should have someplace to go by now.

These three seemed to be practicing their yoga asanas. When the females are in the water that cobalt blue patch isn’t seen. Nice of this individual to stretch enough to give us a good view.

Mallards are very vocal ducks, especially the females. In fact, they are one of very few ducks that actually quack.

The adult Loons left the lake in September, early September we believe. And we’ve decided not to worry, but there seems to be only one adolescent loon left on the lake. The sibs hung out together, for the most part, in the first weeks after mom and pop flew south. But now we see only one. One of the chicks was a bit smaller and we’re hopeful this one is just playing it smart, bulking up for the long flight south.

On October 14th, this adolescent approached our kayaks within about 15 feet. Steve took his photo. We paddled into Ghost Bay and this guy paddled in too, calmly floating near us, diving, and then resurfacing close by. We’ve not heard any vocalization. I guess when there’s no one to talk to, a loon just keeps their own counsel.

We will worry if this guy isn’t headed south in the next 2-3 weeks.

Common Mergansers are back on the lake. As with the Mallards, we are seeing only females. We’ve been seeing them in small groups swimming in the shallows. They dive and come up with mostly major sloppy stuff spilling out of their bills. Or they come up empty. For no reason we can discern, they are prone to episodes of water scooting.They flap their wings, flap their feet, rise up just a few inches off the water, and scoot ten or fifteen feet. They are the slapstick comedians of the waterfowl world.

This trio of females was a real surprise. They are Surf Scoters. They aren’t rare. But we’ve never seen them on Long Lake. From a distance, we thought they were American Black Ducks. But then those two white patches on the sides of their heads caught our attention. And then we noticed their spectacular large bills. A Surf Scoter’s scientific name is Melanitta Perspicullata, which basically means Black (duck) Spectacular. Someday I hope to meet a male Surf Scoter. His bill is even more bulbous than the female’s. And, instead of dull gray, his bill is white, yellow, and red, set off by a white forehead outlined in black. Now that’s spectacular!

Birds of a feather flock together…and not

Gulls know how to do the flock thing for sure. Pity the next human visitors to that raft. Hopefully they came with a mop. It does make you wonder though. It’s not like someone spread a breakfast of bagel bits on the raft and hollered “come and get it.”

You hear that distinctive wail of the loon and you never figure they’d gang up or have a party. But they do. And here on Long Lake.

Then there are the true loners, like this Great Blue Heron walking slowly through the shallows looking for tasty morsels.

Apparently if the vantage point isn’t quite right, they’ll try for a better view, though.

The Eastern Kingbird is often seen hunting solo for insects. But they work in pairs to feed their young.

Kingbirds don’t look particularly menacing. But if you come near their nest before the chicks fledge, look out. How do I know? They nested again this year in the cupholder on our dock bench.

They sort of fake you out because they tolerate your presence while they sit on the eggs. But once the eggs hatch, look out. Once the eggs hatch and you’re just minding your own business quietly trying to unmoor or moor your pontoon boat’s dock lines these birds are fierce. And they don’t just fly around above and squawk menacingly. They dive bomb right at your head and aren’t satisfied until they’ve actually hit it. I thought for awhile if you didn’t talk and if you didn’t look in their direction, they’d leave me alone. They proved me wrong on both strategies. We surrendered our dock bench to them for the duration. But we weren’t willing to surrender our boat rides and so we paid the price. No injuries though. Not to us and not to the Kingbirds.

We see Flickers alone or in pairs, often pecking around in the dirt looking for bugs and other protein.

This guy was just resting a bit, near as we could tell.

There are some birds that all Long Lakers can identify at a glance, like this Gull giving a Bald Eagle a hard time.

The Gull knew a threat, to young we assume, and went after the Eagle. There were some interesting aerobatics. At one point the Gull bounced off the Eagle, doing no apparent damage to either.

Cormorants seem to be more frequent visitors to Long Lake. We may even have a few permanent resident Cormorants this year.

Long Lakers aren’t freaking out though. Sure, Cormorants fish almost as effectively as Jeff does. But we don’t get much by way of walleye stocking these days. And besides a few Cormorants just do their bit to increase our lake’s biodiversity.

Speaking of biodiversity, please leave a comment if you recognize who this pair is. We spotted them in Ghost Bay on August 18th.

I thought they were adolescent mallards. We did have a brood of mallard chicks this year. But these upper bills have an overlapping point at the end, more like a merganser and unlike a mallard. If they are mergansers, maybe in their eclipse plumage, they must have forgotten to check the calendar. Plus they must have lost their GPS because we should be seeing Common Mergansers only briefly in the early spring or late fall. Please leave a comment if you recognize this pair.

We’re getting into the migration season again on the lake. It’s such a fun season and we’re fortunate that so many species decide to land and spend time on our lake. Actually, though, I must betray my biologically incorrect bias and confess that if the Canada Geese would just keep flying I’d be fine with that.

Long Lake: bird’s eye view

Is there any wonder what the loons see in Long Lake? Here’s the view from 200 feet up near our house. August 7, 2017. This is the north section of the lake. That’s Belly Button Island looking like it’s just a tad away from “our” bay. And if your eyes look beyond the island, and turn left, you’d be in Ghost Bay.

Loons are very bad at landings. And they are even worse taker-offers. They beat their wings like crazy, hitting the water, and almost seem to be walking on those long feet of theirs on lift off. And landings aren’t graceful either. They end up skidding to a halt. So a long lake is perfect for the loons. Our lake also has two islands, which is ideal because loons prefer to nest on islands.

Here’s this year’s twins at three weeks.

And here they are just one week later. They still look a bit unpromising. But looks deceive. These guys are already diving for their own food and staying under water for longer and longer lengths of time.

The parents have obviously been feeding them well. Hopefully the twins will be strong and flying well by late October so they can make their flight south.

Loon News

When the loons arrived on the lake, they weren’t all seeing eye to eye. It was sometimes more like beak to beak. There just seemed to be a little more tussling than usual this Spring. Plus there was lot of that scooting-around thing they do.

We’ve had loon chicks hatch as early as mid-June. In fact, back several years ago they hatched on Father’s Day, which always seemed sort of a nice coincidence. After all, loon dads do their sitting time on the nest, just like loon moms. And when the chicks are born, both parents work hard to feed the young ones.

We were concerned when we realized that there were no nests on Belly Button Island–the big island in the north part of the lake. Not to worry. One pair set up their nest on the west side of the small island just across from the public launch. And apparently the other pair just stood guard over the five loon nesting buoys at the big island, sort of faking everybody out.

The small island, especially on the west side, is a calm spot on the lake. So, good choice loon. Oh, except we’ve also seen a big snapping turtle laying eggs on the island and worried she’d decide to go after the eggs on one of the rare occasions when the nest was bare. Then, with just those few feet of water between the island and the land, the risk of raccoons, skunks, mink, otters, and fox getting the eggs seems high. In fact, just about everything walking or flying will raid loon nests sometimes, including gulls, ravens, crows, and there’s even some reports of Bald Eagles chowing down. Very worrisome.

But this pair was vigilant.

And, we are pretty sure that it was sometime on July 3rd that the chicks hatched and headed out on the water. Well, first on a parent’s back.

That red-eyed parental stare cuts right to the chase: “These twins can’t dive yet. Do not run them over. If you run them over I know where you live and we’ll be at the end of your dock yodeling all night while your trying to watch Game of Thrones.”

We didn’t applaud their timing. The lake is so busy over Independence Day. But, babies are born when they’re born.

Here’s another first-day photo.

Happily, the twins made it through their first challenging days. Here they are two days later, on July 5th, already looking like their parents are good providers.

By July 8th, the parents were leaving the chicks bobbing around while they both dove for food.

We can’t protect the twins from the big snappers, or the bald eagles or the giant pike or the rest of the hungry things.  But we can be sure they don’t get whacked by a tuber or run over by a PWC. So, let’s all look out for the little fuzzballs! Hopefully, come October, we’ll find out they’ve gotten a good start on Long Lake and are headed south for the winter.

Dragonfly Moult

This dragonfly just crawled out of its nymph carcass. It chose the webbed strap of our colorful kayak cart to finish its moult and then dry off its wings in the sun.

In its nymph stage, just like in its adult dragonfly stage, these guys (or are they one guy) are fearsome predators. Google “dragonfly nymph feeding” and you can watch many YouTube videos that are a way too gruesome for my little blog. I don’t think anyone comes here to watch worms, tadpoles, and feeder fish be chomped and gobbled up by something that looks like it inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien.

With its moult complete, this dragonfly will eat just about every bug it can get its mouth near. It catches bugs like mosquitos, flies, mayflies by using its legs as a basket to dump food into its mouth. Dragonflies basically eat constantly, And they are among the most efficient predators on the planet. Some estimates saying they capture 95% of the prey they set their eyes on. One look at that mask of theirs (the large hinged lower lip) lets you know these guys mean business.

Oh, dragonflies don’t bite people unless you really really provoke them, say by holding them when they want to fly away. They seem to be drawn to colorful clothing. If one lands on you, just sit quietly and enjoy it.

If you watch birds, you are birding. If you watch odonata (the Latin name for the dragonfly species) you are oding. We enjoyed this weekend’s oding. Dragonflies are buzzing around Long Lake in great numbers right now.