Alaska Loon Cam host Jean Tam says a family of four Pacific loons -- two adults and two chicks -- won't be under 24-hour surveillance much longer, as the chicks grow up and spend less time on the nest.
Tam says the chicks, born in midsummer, are doing well, growing fast and spending more time off the nest and among the lily pads of Conners Lake in Midtown Anchorage.
Both baby Pacific loon chicks have weathered the first few weeks of life and appear happy and healthy, spending less time on the nest and more time in the water with their parents.
"As you have probably noticed, the loons are off the nest for longer periods. Once they abandon the nest, the chicks will hide in the lily pads between feeding sessions," Tam said.
The chicks have been ducking into and out of view of the Alaska Loon Cam, playfully teasing each other and exploring the new, wide world around them.
Tam, a dedicated naturalist who has been involved in the preservation of Conners Lake's waterfowl habitat, has invited Alaska Loon Cam viewers to "come out to the lake and see the family in person."
"The loons will be spending less and less time" on the nest and more time in the water from here on out, Tam added.
It's the second go-round this season for this female loon, a longtime resident of Conners Lake. Earlier this season, after only one chick hatched in the loon's first clutch, a predator -- likely a bald eagle -- snatched the baby shortly after it had broken through the egg.
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According to Tam and Alaska Audubon spokesperson Beth Paluso, male loons show up each year and challenge each other for primacy on Conner's Lake. The one who wins gets "alpha male" status -- and the right to mate with the female. Tam had no way of knowing whether the same male had renested with the female, who has a metal band on to identify her.
What is known for certain is that the female and a male mated and produced one egg this May, as summer began in Alaska. The egg hatched in mid-June; and the female guarded the remains of the lone, hatched egg. That could be due to the fact that loons usually produce a clutch of two eggs, Paluso said.
Once eggs hatch, loons are prone to staying in a "family unit," with the mother and father taking turns feeding the chicks. The parents also take turns defending the chicks from predators. That's a mighty task, since in the United States, Pacific loons only breed in Alaska's hostile natural environment, Paluso added.
But less than two days after the newborn loon had been born on camera -- with viewers from around the world as witnesses -- the baby disappeared.
In years past, when a baby chick had been plucked from the water -- probably by a bald eagle, the newborn birds' most likely predator -- the loons had left, leaving Tam no choice but to turn off the loon cam for the season.
But this year's been totally different, she says.
The Alaska Loon Cam went dark for about three weeks. But then, in early July, Tam contacted Alaska Dispatch with "breaking news" from the nest:
I watched the pair for a couple of days [after the first baby loon disappeared] and noticed that they stuck pretty close together -- swimming, sleeping, and feeding near each other. In other years, after losing chicks, they usually do their own thing separately, so this seemed a little different. This morning I turned the cameras on to check on the loons and was amazed to see a loon on the nest with two eggs!
"If there are chicks from this effort, they will be hard-pressed to fledge before fall freeze-up. Hope for a warm fall," Tam said.
Last year, two eggs were produced by the same bird. In mid-June 2010, both hatched, a few days apart. But the youngest chick mysteriously disappeared, also probably snatched by a bald eagle, Tam said.
About Alaska's Pacific loons
- The incubation period for Pacific loon eggs is about a month
- There are five species of loons in Alaska
- Pacific loons are birds of the North, populous in northern North America and mate on land in the summer climates of Alaska and Canada
Read more about Pacific loons at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, which offers information on the natural aspects of a bird's life cycle.
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