Over the 2013 loon nest season, I’ll be posting several articles to assist you in being an effective loon monitor. This first post will be helpful in locating the loon nest.
First, determine if there are any islands. Loons prefer islands, even the tiniest spit of mud, or a semi-floating mat can be used as a nest island. An island is generally more successful because it gets the nest away from the main shoreline, where foraging raccoons and other scavengers and predators aren’t likely to happen on it. Scan the islands, and also scan the shoreline for loons. If you see a loon on shore, they’re almost certainly nesting, or building a nest. Loons rarely venture on shore for any other reason besides to mate. Speaking of which, loon couples almost always nest-build after a mating session. This doesn’t mean they’re building the nest they’ll actually use. They may start several nests before settling on the site they want.
If you’re searching by kayak or boat, scan the shore ahead of you so you don’t spook a loon off the nest before you see it. If you see both loons on the water, you’ll have to watch to see if either goes ashore. If you know the lake is occupied by a loon pair, and you see only one loon, the mate is likely on nest, diving, or on another lake feeding.
If a search of the lake’s entire perimeter turns up no nest, you may have to search any marsh area not visible on the main shore. Should this prove unsuccessful, determine if the lake has an inlet or outlet. If so, seek these out and travel as far in as you can. It may open up into a small bay or marsh, or the loon may nest right on the creek edge.
Once you find the nest, consider whether the nest is in a spot where it might easily be disturbed by human activity. Often, from the time a loon begins nesting in early or mid May until the time of hatching, the lake may have changed significantly. Memorial Day can be very busy and is sometimes a make or break weekend for loons. If the lake has a public access or boat launch, it’s a good idea to contact the DNR to get permission to place a “Loon Alert” sign so lake users are aware of nesting loons. Some think it’s best not to advertise the loons’ presence, but I’ve always found that most people don’t intend to harm loons and that more education is better than less. It’s also helpful to contact a lake association, if there is one. Eventually, you might want to speak on loons and how residents can help at a lake association meeting, which occur frequently during the season. If nothing else, they can post something on their website regarding the resident loons and how people can help protect and preserve them. Finally, don’t hesitate to go door to door and inform lake residents about the loons, or hand out some literature that preferably shows where the loons nest and when the nest cycle occurs. Again, the more people know about the loons on their lake, the more allies loons will have. It’s good to have people who live on the lake help you in your observations, especially to let you know if the loons are disturbed while you’re not on the lake.
If the loons hold their ground through Memorial Day, they have a good chance of a successful nest. Once they hatch, the chicks will take to the water within a day or two. Once on the water, the loon family may remain in the nest area, especially if it’s located in a protected area, or may take their chicks to a “nursery” site. Either way, they’ll likely spend their time where small fish or minnows are available. On Round Lake, the parents usually choose the nursery area depending on whether they hatched one chick or two. If one, they generally stay to the South (nest) end of the lake for a couple weeks. If two, they often use more of the lake, especially places where more small fish are found. Loon parents usually have this stuff figured out beforehand, and knowing these habits will help you be a better loon monitor, and be able to anticipate the loons’ movements and patterns.