June 25, 2022
Today dawned as a typical hatch day. Around 7 am the second chick hatched and we had a great view of Mom, and then Dad, nest sitting while the chicks peeped and had their first wobbly experience outside of an egg. Around noon the parents decided it was time that they all be real loons, get in the water and head for the brooding area. Chick #2 refused to go. Not unheard of and no big deal to the loons. Dad took #1 out for a paddle while Mom stayed on the nest with #2. Right about 1 pm Mom convinced #2 to join the others. They got in the water, gave a call, and then Dad and #1 began swimming back toward them.
Then it got weird. When Dad and #1 were still off camera and about 50 feet from Mom and #2, Dad let out some hideous sounds and began splashing in the water. When the camera turned we could see him beating his wings against the water and straining as if he were trying to release himself from something under the water. He also began moving away from #2 and the others, so #2 swam toward Mom and away from the commotion. Dad’s contortions went on for a couple of minutes. Three people reported seeing a large turtle head beneath him at one point. Shortly after that it appeared that Dad had shaken off whatever grabbed him and he swam further away, only to begin his bizarre behavior all over again. He worked his way to the middle of the lake, his efforts seemed to slow down as if he were wearing out, he dropped lower into the water, went under once, twice, three times, and then he sank out of sight.
Fifteen minutes later, still no Dad in sight. Mom looked confused and horrified, floating in the water with two chicks circling her. She didn’t change her expression or move more than twenty feet for an hour. During this time I was reviewing the video and trying to make sense out of it all. All the signs I saw pointed to an attack from under water. The only aquatic critter in the lake that could hold down a loon from swimming away would be a large snapping turtle. Why didn’t Dad come back after it was all over? It’s not like a loon to abandon its chicks on their first swim unless something was totally wrong. The only logical answer I could see was that Dad couldn’t come back and possibly wouldn’t be coming back and prematurely stated my fears to the chatters.
A little after two there was a wail in the distance. Mom answered back. At 2:25 pm Dad showed up, certainly weary and worse for wear, but intact, much to the relief of us all. A few chatters suggested that Dad had performed a distraction display but I don’t buy it. First, the only distraction display that loons are known for is the penguin dance. There is no wing beating in a penguin dance; it’s all in the feet that they use to kick up the water and rise up and puff their chest out to look menacing. Dad wasn’t being menacing; he was being frantic. But on the other hand, if a snapper had wraped it’s powerful mouth around the loons legs or feet the loon would surely be maimed after all that struggling. Perhaps Dad saw the snapper going for for the chick and he was trying to protect the chick and came up with this wing slap method, continuing to push/chase the snapper away from his family. That seems to have the best chance.
But more weirdness: When Dad got back both he and Mom continued to be animated and stressed out. An hour and a half wasn’t enough time to cool down? Something continued to bother them and that something was likely to keep Dad away for so long. But What? That’s the question. And then Dad took the chicks back to the nest, where they still are at 6:30 pm. Chatters think that #2 needs more time to dry out but I suspect that Dad needs the break more than the chicks do. It’s all kinda weird.