What Have We Learned?

Now that the loon cam season is complete, we can review the events we witnessed over the past two months and see how they fit with the conventional wisdom of loon behavior and ecology. We think we know so much but we are constantly reminded that there is always more to learn. Here’s a few things that added to or reinforced our knowledge base.

Nesting loons have more ways of losing eggs than we thought. Disappearing eggs are nothing new. It’s more common than you might think. Loons can accidentally knock an egg out of the nest. Boat wakes can wash an egg out of the nest. Some predators can carry eggs away from the nest (raccoons and eagles are good examples). We’ve even had some suspected human thievery. But a loon accidentally burying an egg wasn’t on our radar until the Nest Cam #1 loons demonstrated that it could happen. Had we known that there were two eggs on the nest but didn’t have the camera to witness the occurrence, we would have listed the ultimate fate of the egg as unknown, or possibly unknown predation if a biologist had a chance to survey the area shortly after the egg disappeared.

An egg in the middle of the incubation phase can remain unattended for 10 hours and still remain viable. The Loon Cam #2 loons demonstrated this. This is just one data point and certainly doesn’t mean that all eggs would remain viable. Had the day been sunnier and warmer, or much cooler, the outcome may have been different. But each new observation narrows the unknown range.

Predation by eagles is increasing in NH. This isn’t really new, nor is it unexpected. In fact, LPC Senior Biologist John Cooley recent published a paper concerning this in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. But watching it happen live on Loon Cam #1 certainly left an indelible impression on the minds of the viewers. And it demonstrates that even the smallest loon pond can be subject to predation by an expanding eagle population.

Loons have a wide variety of nest sitting schedules. The literature says that female loons are more likely to do the nighttime incubation and they tend to invest more time to incubation as the hatch date approaches. Observation of the Loon Cams over the past few years show that this is not always the case. The male on Loon Cam #1 does a lot of the nighttime sitting and he is consistently on the nest during hatch, whereas the female has been known to take off for extended periods when hatching is imminent. All pairs we have observed seem to have a very fluid schedule. As soon as we start predicting who will be on the nest at a certain time, the pair will call our bluff.

It all adds to our knowledge base and reminds us that we don’t know everything and sometimes we don’t even know what we think we know. Here’s looking forward to next year’s humbling lessons from the Loon Cam loons.