Fall's Journey South
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Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Seney, Michigan
"Just a few weeks ago, we had nearly 30 Loons here," reports Joe Kaplan, Loon biologist at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Based on the many banding recoveries made of Loons from the refuge, these loons are probably preparing to head for the Florida Coast where they'll spend the winter.
Typically, adult Loons migrate ahead of the young, leaving them behind to fend for themselves. The young remain longer in order to feed and strengthen up for their first-ever, long-distance journey. Most leave by the end of September, but some will stay until the lakes begin to freeze and they're forced to move on. Young loons fly to the Atlantic Coast all by themselves, and won't be back for 3-4 years. This is because loons don't return to the nesting grounds until they're old enough to breed.
Dr. F.G. IrwinLoons have a very short time to learn how to fly, hunt for fish, and protect themselves against predators. Less than 3 months ago, these young Loons were tiny chicks covered in down. Right after they are born, their parents take the chicks to a sheltered area of the lake which is like a nursery. Here the Loon parents feed their chicks fish and protect them from predators. Often you can see the young babies riding on their parents backs.
How Do They Do It?
Social or Solitary?
Social gatherings of over 650 Loons were seen last week on Lake Winibigoshish in Minnesota. A single group of 235 birds was there on September 14th, according to the Minnesota Rare Bird Hotline. (Lake Winibigoshish is near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.)
Julie BrophyWho's Who?
Loons look alike once they reach adulthood. Even the males and females have identical plumage. Scientists can recognize individual loons at Seney NWR, however. This is because almost half of the nesting population there has been marked with colored leg bands. In fact, the loons at Seney NWR are the most carefully studied group of loons anywhere. "Much of our understanding of loon's population ecology is based on the hundreds of observation hours collected on color-marked individuals at Seney," says Loon biologist Dave Evers. "Since territorial pairs are easily monitored and followed each year--and between years--we are able to better understand hard-to-collect information,"
More about Seney National Wildlife Refuge
"Loons like it here," explains Kaplan, "because there are lots lakes, plenty of fish to eat, numerous little islands where they can build their nests and, best of all, no humans and boats to bother them. They return to Seney year after year in the spring to breed."
Coming Next Week
The Next Journey South Update Will be Posted on September 29, 1997.
Other Fall Nature Notes