Sleet greeted me as I landed yesterday at Rhinelander Airport. Since I had come from 75 degree southern California, it took me a few moments to adjust. I hurriedly dug through my clothing and threw on four more layers of clothing, gloves and a woolen cap. Our research vehicle, a 2007 Toyota Corolla, was as reluctant as I was to face the elements. The car sputtered to life, and I drove from the storage box to our research cottage on Currie Lake. A panicked search at the cottage produced most of the items I would need for a day of field observations: binocs, data sheets, life preserver, paddle, GPS.
Meanwhile, Royce, my first field assistant of the year, had arrived. After equipping him for a day in the field, and a grabbing three hours of fitful sleep, we were ready to hit the lakes this morning.
On the first day out, novelty and adrenaline keep one going. Royce and I raced from lake to lake, doing “quick-hitters” to locate pairs. In other words, we wrote down any leg bands the loons would show us readily, mapped any nests we found, and threw the canoe back on top of the car to go to the next lake. (Truth be told, we took a quick break at Dunkin Donuts for two vanilla-frosted and a chocolate creme to bolster our flagging spirits at one point.) All told we hit Soo, Flannery, Julia, Buck, Hilts, Hildebrand, Townline, Langley (the 28+ year-old female there is pictured in the photo), Squaw and Gross. Four of these pairs had nests and two others were clearly making plans. Based on this small sample, almost half of our pairs are now nesting. Considering that we have about 110 more lakes to cover, we no doubt have 50 or so nests to find in the next few weeks. Sadly many of these nests will fail quickly — before we can visit the lake — so we will never record them. In order to limit that tragic loss of data, we will continue quick-hitters until we exhaust our lake list.
This is a stressful way to start the research year, but it is also traditional. Some years, in fact, are worse, as I am unable to enlist others’ help to make a first sweep through the study area. Kristin and Linda’s first round of visits in April to locate returning and newly settled breeders spared us the trauma of having to nail everyone’s identity AND find nests. So we will endure, cheered on from time to time by a selfie — and a very occasional stop at D&D.