The nest in the featured photo has that forlorn, unloved look that many do at the beginning. It seems, at first glance, that the female just crept up on shore and dropped an egg there — as if she had to put it somewhere. Closer scrutiny reveals that the pair had gathered a substantial bed of pine needles from the surrounding area and formed a crude bowl shape around the lone egg. Still, it does not inspire confidence that a portion of rotted oak leaf is draped over the egg. Yet the male approached me as I quickly snapped a few photos, registered the nest’s GPS coordinates, and skedaddled to see if he would incubate. He did not.
I can understand the Thunder Lake pair’s inability to adjust to changing conditions. Only an hour before seeing them, I had stumbled out of my guest room (a wonderful, secluded home by a small lake where our friends permit us to lodge in May and June). My trip to Rhinelander on the previous day had not been the relaxing, sumptuous journey I had hoped for. After a last-minute cancellation of our flight, I buddied up with two other shell-shocked passengers near the gate — one a sales director for a pharmaceutical company from Minocqua, the other a Colombian fellow from Tomahawk who sells farm machinery for a Finnish company — and we rented a car for the 3 1/2 hour drive instead of waiting overnight to be rescheduled. (In truth, Steve rented the car, since his company would cover the cost.) By the time our rental rolled into Rhinelander, it was 2 a.m. Luckily, the engine turned over in the 2007 Toyota Corolla that we leave for nine months in our storage box (the “Loonmobile”). I was able to grab three hours of shut-eye before some passing Canada Geese awakened me. Two — okay, three — donuts and a cup of coffee later, I had seen my first loon pair on Thunder.
We have learned over the years that loon pairs take a day or more to “accept” that they have laid an egg and must incubate it. On these initial days, pairs sometimes wander far from their new nest, leaving the egg dreadfully exposed. I find this curious. The egg is, of course, in danger of being found and eaten from the moment it is laid. The embryo inside it cannot begin developing rapidly until it becomes optimally warmed by the parents. Every moment spent off the eggs seems time wasted and needless risk taken. I suppose, though, that I must defer to my study animals, who have a pretty good record of turning eggs into chicks.
The Thunder pair can be forgiven more easily than most for their reluctance to incubate. The male is new to the territory and unmarked. Probably a 5- or 6-year-old, this is likely the first egg that a mate of his has ever laid. One hopes that he and his well-seasoned mate — whom we banded as a chick on Currie Lake in 2003 — can restore Thunder Lake to productivity, after a six-year chickless slump. To do so, they will have to shake off this egg-denial and get serious about breeding!