Ensconced as I am in the endless summer of southern California, it is easy for me to forget what loons are facing. As we know from Kevin Kenow’s excellent work, about half of all adults have now left their breeding lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin and are on their way southwards. Many of these birds are hanging out in the Great Lakes before making the long overland journey to Florida. Some adults remain faithfully with their chicks, hoping to stuff a few extra fish into them before abandoning them to their own devices.
Adults’ departure leaves only chicks on the breeding grounds. Thanks to the the work of our fall observation teams and Brian Hoover, who pulled the data together and wrote it up, we know that most juveniles leave their natal lakes in the fall but hang out nearby. They search diligently for large, food-rich lakes, especially favoring those that resemble their natal one in pH. Their strategy is clear. First, stuff your face with fish where they are abundant and similar to the ones you first learned to hunt. Next, wait until the last possible minute to build up your energy stores. Finally, bolt for Florida before the ice makes it impossible to take off.
The juveniles’ plan has a touching pragmatism to it. There is no subtlety. Birds of the year are not burdened with territorial responsibilities or pangs of parental guilt. They just wish to survive long enough to reach the wintering grounds. And, generally speaking, they do.
But a few get left behind. Thus it happened with the Lake Thompson juvenile this fall. A great strapping youngster when we caught him in late July at five weeks of age, he continued to grow and thrive in the 12 weeks since we last saw him. Ultimately, he had no more need of his parents and moved five miles west to Boom Lake in Rhinelander to fatten up for migration. There, however, he ran afoul of a reckless hunter. Linda and Kevin Grenzer caught him last night and quickly saw that his left wing was fractured. X-rays at REGI confirmed the break — caused by goose shot visible in the x-ray.
I cannot think what else to say.
Top photo by Linda Grenzer. X-ray by REGI staff.