Imagine being in Nelson’s boots right now. He rises early in the morning, hitting his first study lake at 5:30 am or so. Despite having no recent information to guide him, he must launch his solo canoe into each of 120+ study lakes, locate a breeding pair, get clear looks at all or most leg bands on both territorial pair members, and reconcile what he has seen with the known band combinations of the male and female from the the previous summer. Any inconsistencies between what Nelson scribbles down with trembling hands and the known band combinations of the previous year’s pair require a repeat visit for verification. So…..it can be frustrating work!
And then there’s the weather. As I write in my office in Orange, California, it is 74 degrees outside. I worry about the weather here. Will I have to shed an outer layer to avoid getting too warm? Have I applied enough sunscreen? Will I require a cool drink? Meanwhile Nelson is facing 39 degrees and freezing rain, while paddling his solo canoe many miles each day! I shall try to keep him in mind before complaining about the conditions here. (Nelson’s photo above is from a few days ago.)
Luckily, Linda Grenzer is covering many lakes along the southern fringe of the study area, and other friends are pitching in on a few lakes here and there. This will lighten Nelson’s load. But it is grueling work. On a nice day spent with cooperative loons, one might verify identities of pairs on 10 lakes, but that is exceptional. More often, it is a “two steps forward, one step back” proposition. That is, one goes to a breeding lake and finds only one loon is present. Or one finds no loon at all, because the pair is off foraging or exploring adjacent lakes for nesting sites. Or one encounters three loons, because a resident is being challenged for ownership. In all such cases, one must return to the lake to sort out territorial ownership.
So give Nelson a hearty wave, if you see him. He is the vanguard of this year’s research efforts. He is the valiant youngster tackling the thorny unglamorous field assignment, while his boss looks on impatiently from climate-controlled comfort. He is Jim Fowler to my Marlon Perkins. He can probably use that hearty wave.