Wiggle Waggle Loon

The loon was wagging its tail.

Such a happy creature, I thought. Then I returned to my senses. Loons are not puppies, whose joyful exuberance might be measured in tail rotations per minute.  Could the tail swish be aimed at keeping insects away? Not likely. Conditions were breezy on Farm Lake, just windy enough to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay. Surely, the loons enjoyed the same benefit of that day’s Algonquin weather.  My kayaking partner and I headed for a closer look.

As we approached, the wagging continued. Six or eight shakes, then a pause, followed by another series of rapid flapping.  The flag-like end of the bird’s tail seemed improbably large. I peered through the camcorder’s viewfinder and bumped up the zoom. The camera jiggled from the kayak’s unsteady movement, but the loon’s details came into view.  That’s when I realized my mistake.

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Please Pass the Fish

Loons are world-class divers.

But not the young ones; at least not for several weeks. On a recent Algonquin paddling trip, I noticed Common Loon parents diving for fish and then surfacing to pass the goodies to their chicks. The fluffy-feathered kids appeared to be good swimmers and sometimes they disappeared momentarily under the water. So why weren’t they foraging their own food?

The answer, it turns out, is in those fluffy feathers.

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Loon Echo

So many loons!

Not on the lake below our home; no loons grace Lake Allegan. But on a recent paddling trip in Canada, we were treated to near-constant loon company. I’ve always understood loons to be shy, so I was not expecting to see so many of them at such close range. The loons did not turn away as we paddled nearby. Sometimes, they even approached us, stopping just a few yards from our kayaks. Apparently, these Ontario loons see a lot of paddlers. Or, they simply share in the Canadian reputation for being extra friendly.

I saw some touching loon behavior—adults feeding their young, including one moment when a parent appeared to be teaching the child a food-finding skill. I also saw some comical loon behavior known as the foot waggle. I’ll share those moments in future blog posts.

My favorite loon encounter was the evening we were treated to a loon symphony.
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Fawn Crossing

My new motto: Never get in a kayak without the camcorder.

Last weekend, when Bert and I took one of our kayaks out,  I left all things electronic in the house. That turned out to be a mistake. We did an hour of uneventful pedaling. (That’s not a typo; this two-person kayak is foot-powered.) Hugging the south shore of Lake Allegan, we enjoyed the usual flora and fauna, the latter limited to a few turtles warming themselves in the afternoon sun. Then fauna became fawna, as a young deer hopped out of the woods and into the water. He (or she? I could not tell) was not more than twenty yards in front of our boat.

I thought the fawn might reverse course on seeing us. Instead, he put his skinny legs in gear and swam.

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Serenity-Seeking Squirrels

What’s your favorite squirrel nickname?

Tree Rat? Seed snitch? Bane of the backyard birder?

Squirrels get a really bad rap. Not at my house, though. I harbor no ill will toward the bushy tails—no resentment for wasted seed, no anger at stolen suet. That’s because we do not feed the birds, who seem to dine just fine on our woods’ native food. Not to mention that when I film, I prefer catching the creatures in trees instead of hanging on feeders. So, aside from the racket our dog Remy makes when he spots a squirrel in a scurry, what’s not to love? Indeed, I’m grateful to the squirrels. They’re entertaining, and they eat tons of acorns. If you happen to have a lawn surrounded by oaks, you know why I think it’s wonderful when acorns do not have a chance to become seedlings.

But back to that bad rap. Apparently, it gives the little cuties a complex. Which could explain why I see them practicing tai chi in the trees.
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Stuck

Now, there’s a face that begs for anthropomorphizing.

Eyebrows raised, with a calm, resigned-to-her-fate demeanor, she must be thinking, ‘hrumph.’ A more excitable species might be musing in swear words. Not the unflappable painted turtle.

The lady had plenty to gripe about. She had meandered onto our walkway, the one lined with landscape timbers and punctuated with steps. And she was stuck.
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Life in a Snaggy Wood

Snaggy—that’s a technical term I just made up to describe our wooded backyard.

Our little forest has a lovely sprinkling of snags, the forestry term for standing dead and dying trees. I became a snag advocate (a snagvocate?) soon after moving into our home in the woods. In defense of the dead tree, I’ve convinced Bert that we should remove dead wood only as needed to keep our view of the lake below, and to protect the house from hazard in a storm. Otherwise, we leave the dead trees alone.

And oh, the rewards for benign neglect!
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Bon Appetit!

What’s on the Menu?

This past spring, I watched Hairy Woodpecker parents feed their nestlings. They would fly to the door of the tree cavity, poke their heads and torsos inside, and shake. All I could see was tail feathers bobbing rapidly as the parents pushed and the babies pulled to swallow the regurgitated food. After a couple of weeks, though, the tail movement stopped, even though the parents were still flying to the tree cavity every hour or so.

I worried: Had mom and dad stopped feeding the kids?
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Mama Raccoon’s High Wire Act

Circus acrobats have nothing on Mama Raccoon

When a raccoon nested in one of our snags, I was surprised to see how often she left her kits alone in their tree cavity. Mama departed five or six times daily during daylight hours, and she probably made a few nighttime trips. She was surely hungry and thirsty from nursing her babes.

Mama was cautious, too. Well, cautious like a high-wire walker.
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Drum Beat of the Northern Flicker

We hear a lot of woodpecker drumming in our woods, and it’s not always clear who is doing the percussion work. But when I hear a deep, resonant drumroll, I immediately look to what I’ve come to call the timpani tree. It’s a magnet for northern flickers. Or, perhaps this instrument serves the same flicker over and again. My reading tells me that flickers are territorial, and they may drum to send a warning to interlopers.

For at least three years, flicker drumming has led me to this tree. Well, ‘tree’ may be a bit of a misstatement, because it’s really a remnant of a long-dead tree; one of the many snags that grace our property.

This snag is well suited to its percussive task. You don’t have to look very closely to see that it’s hollow, and the tree wall is quite thin. The result is a particularly resonant sound under the staccato strike of the flicker’s bill.

Speaking of staccato strikes, there’s something peculiar about the flickers’ drum beats on this tree.

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