We just got a report that a pair of our loons is back, and this is the first pair of the year. Up to now, our pairs have had to content themselves with overflights of their territories to look for open water, which would allow them to land. At other times, they wait (mostly along the Wisconsin River) for their lake to open up. But according to Linda Grenzer, who is super hawk-eyed and on the ball, about 20% of her lake (Muskellunge in Lincoln County) was ice-free by this afternoon, and that was enough to permit the banded pair there to land and begin to defend the territory anew.
The Muskellunge pair that Linda found today is well known to us. The male there is a very tame bird whom we banded on as a chick on Manson Lake in 1998 and who produced chicks with a first female on Deer Lake in 2003 and then bred successfully with her again there in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 and 2007, Deer yielded no chicks. As we have seen with numerous other males, this male then gave up on Deer, evicted the male on Muskellunge (right next door!) in 2008 and paired with a new female there. He has twice produced chicks on Muskellunge and seems firmly ensconced there now. The Muskellunge female is also an interesting individual, as Linda caught her spending some of last summer hanging out with and feeding a chick from Clear Lake (also next door to Muskellunge) when her own chick had shifted to a new lake! Furthermore, Linda photographed this female while she was molting, and I posted the photos on Nov. 28 of last year.) Kudos to Linda for all of the sleuthing. I do not believe her breeding loons do anything interesting without her recording it from her kayak nearby.
Since this post has become mostly a tribute to Linda’s great field work, it is fitting to end up with a photo she sent me a few weeks back. She took this photo on the Wisconsin River near Tomahawk on 14 April. If you look closely, you will notice that one of the colored leg bands has a geolocator tag attached. The tag from this male, who is, by the way, from a territory up in Vilas County, will provide a good deal of information on his past migratory movements and foraging patterns that might help USGS biologists learn about the occurrence of avian botulism, which kills many loons.