First Chicks — and Impressions

As promised, we have begun to cover not only our original Wisconsin study area — in Oneida, Lincoln, and Vilas counties — but also territorial loon pairs in and around the Whitefish Chain, near Crosslake, Minnesota. This has not diminished our research in Wisconsin at all; we have exactly the same number of interns and field effort as in recent years. But we have increased the size of our field team and added Minnesota to the mix.

I have spent the past three days in the new Minnesota study area with three team members. Two of these folks — Katy and Jordana — will remain in Minnesota for the rest of the summer. They will scout out territories that we will begin to cover and also locate pairs with chicks, which we can capture and mark with leg bands. Following an intense banding campaign in July and August, we hope to have 40 or so territorial pairs in Minnesota marked and ready for study by late summer 2021 and perhaps 60-70 pairs by August 2022. We have learned quickly that Minnesota loons are even more tame and easy to observe than Wisconsin loons on average. So things look very promising for our research in the new study area.

After an early ice-out and a less severe black fly emergence than usual, both Wisconsin and Minnesota are seeing their first chicks. The featured photo for this post, taken by new team member, Kimi, shows some new arrivals and their tame parents from the Whitefish Chain. Many more pairs in northern portions of both states are within a week of hatching, like the incubating female below from Upper Whitefish, which was well hidden in

vegetation. So we are seeing the beginning of a wave of earlier-than-normal hatches in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Breeding productivity looks to be far better this year than in either 2019 or 2020. In light of my concerns about the Wisconsin population, I am relieved to see reproductive numbers bounce back up this year. Let’s hope that this apparent breeding recovery continues.

By the way, we are now on Instagram! If you wish to see loon photos and video from Minnesota and Wisconsin in this much splashier format, follow us at @loonproject.