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Alaska Loon Cam: What handicapped Pacific loon chick? (+VIDEO)

Alaska Dispatch

Watch live streaming video from pacificloons at livestream.com

Monday, June 25: What handicapped a Connors Lake Pacific loon chick?

Loon Cam viewers reported hearing "screeching" last Wednesday and the bird cam's moderator, Anchorage naturalist Jean Tam, suspected a possible attack by the loon's most common predator, a bald eagle. (Read all about it in yesterday's post, below.)

Volunteers from the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage were summoned to investigate whether the bird needed rescuing. The baby, which hasn't been able to climb up onto the project's nesting platform since June 20, was found hiding in lily pads.

Here's what Bird TLC reported on its blog:

I was able to do a full exam of the bird and couldn't find any breaks or dislocated joints. The leg operated normally if I moved it manually. The chick showed no pain. There were no predator markes, talons, teeth, etc. The right leg just doesn't work. Now it was time to decide on what to do.

It appeared to the Bird TLC experts that the chick had possibly been born with a lame leg. Here's an embedded photo of the chick from the TLC blog (photo courtesy Sean Merewood):

The volunteers decided not to take the chick back to the clinic because its survival possibilities weren't too good, according to this report. If it did survive after the clinic, the loon would be captive for the rest of its life, though.

On the lake we saw it swim and keep up with its parents most of the time. They were watching out for it. It was diving some and it floated better than anything I've ever seen. It also knew how to hide and rest in the lily pads. It just couldn't get into the nest.

The baby didn't have any problems getting onto the nest prior to Wednesday. So what happened? As the baby grew -- it's now just about two weeks old -- did a handicap manifest? It's a mystery.

Sunday, June 24: A suspected attack in Anchorage, Alaska, last week that was crowd-reported via Twitter and chain emails led volunteers to mount a mid-lake rescue of the injured victim, who's less than 2 weeks old.

Good Samaritans from Colorado to Canada and even in New Zealand notified Alaska Dispatch, urging that something be done to help the victim. Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, an Anchorage nonprofit and even a local emergency room were reportedly contacted to assist in the rescue.

Unfortunately, there's little to be done for the victim.

That in a nutshell describes days of commotion focused on a Pacific loon chick, one of two born on a live video stream and broadcast across the web from Connors Lake in Alaska's largest city. At any given moment, several hundred bird lovers may be logged on to watch life unfold for these part-time residents of the 49th state. Mama flies into town every year, typically in early May, just as the ice has gone out. She's got a protected nest that's built on a manmade island floated out into the lake each spring by Jean Tam, Scott Christy and other Anchorage Audubon Society naturalists who have been providing the female loon a place to mate, procreate and raise broods for nearly a decade.

Tam and Christy have been out of town the last several days on vacation. When they returned Sunday, they were met with a flurry of messages about the injured loon chick.

Was it a surprise attack by the most common loon predator in Southcentral Alaska, the bald eagle? That's still a mystery. But the drama began to unfold in the early morning hours on Wednesday, June 20, when Alaskans everywhere were gearing up to celebrate summer solstice.

Screeching was heard on the Loon Cam; for several hours after that, only one chick was seen with the two adults, Tam said. Eventually, the baby came out of hiding among lily pads on the lake. But since then, that chick has been unable to climb back onto the nesting platform with the other chick and brooding adult.

"I figured it had been injured earlier, but it seemed to be swimming and feeding OK," Tam said in an email detailing the events.

The emails and phone calls began soon thereafter. One woman emailed Alaska Dispatch asking that experts be summoned to rescue the baby. Another man emailed from Canada, pleading for help for the little bird, which the Loon Cam viewer reported had "tried and failed 10 times to get back into the nest. Please help."

Tam said she had voicemails, too, from upset Loon Cam faithful who thought a rescue might be warranted.

Volunteers from Anchorage's Bird Treatment and Learning Center were sent out to Connors Lake. There, they captured the chick, Tam said, only to let it go "after determining there was nothing they could do to help its injured right leg."

The expedition was reported on Bird TLC's blog.

What's to be done now?

"All we can do now is wait and see," Tam said. "Perhaps the chick will recover over the course of the summer or become eagle bait. If it survives the summer, it probably will not be able to take off from the water with one bad leg. Maybe it will need to be rescued then."

The ups and downs of life on the nest could well provide the script for Alaska's next reality TV show. Last summer, a predator -- again, a bald eagle is the likely culprit -- killed the female loon's two chicks not long after they'd been born. Tam turned the Alaska Loon Cam off, thinking it the end of that summer's surveillance. But within a few weeks the female had mated again, laid two more eggs and raised them until migration -- the first successful double reproduction in the loon project's history, Tam said.

Expect to see less and less of the family in coming days and weeks. They're spending more time on the water -- where the chicks learn to swim and feed and fly -- Tam said. Soon, it will be time to turn off the streaming video, Tam said. Updates and photos will continue from the project through the end of summer. 

Thursday, June 14: A second Pacific loon chick was born Thursday, as more than 700 bird watchers tuned in online to watch the action at Connors Lake in West Anchorage.

Loon cam host Jean Tam confirmed the second chick was observed underneath the female loon's wing about 11:15 a.m.

 

Wednesday, June 13: The first of two Pacific loon chicks arrived some time overnight, according to the host of the popular Connors Lake streaming webcam.

Jean Tam said that when she last checked in on the birds, around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, "there was no sign" of a hatched egg. Her next check-in, around 11 a.m., she saw the newly-arrived Pacific loon chick looking up at its mother, tucked just behind her right wing.

MORE: Alaska Loon Cam updates on Twitter

Note the doting look on the proud mama's beak:

First Pacific loon chick arrived overnight June 13. (Jean Tam photo)

The female loon has regularly nested at Connors Lake, under surveillance by Tam and her husband, Scott Christy, for nearly a decade. She's banded so that she can be identified. She arrived this year on May 7, on schedule, about six days after the ice went out on the Spenard-area lake east of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Slideshow: Bird lovers return to Connors Lake

The very next day, Tam observed the female copulating with the male Pacific loon that won breeding rights on the lake. Twelve days later, May 19, the first egg was spotted on the manmade nesting platform Tam and Christy maintain for the birds. 

A second egg was observed three days later, May 22. Based on the incubation period for Pacific loons, expect the newborn chick to have a sibling in a day or two, according to the Anchorage Audubon Society and Cornell University Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds project, a nonprofit that sponsors Internet bandwidth for the Alaska Loon Cam and several other interesting bird cams across the U.S. 

More details to come, stay tuned!

Friday, June 8: What was the genesis of the Alaska Loon Cam? It's a common question, and one that's explored by the webcam host, the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

Jean Tam and her husband, Scott Christy, began the Pacific loon cam project on Connors Lake nine years ago. The two are longtime bird enthusiasts and when they moved to the area, just south of Spenard near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Tam noticed that human and dog traffic near the lake had left little suitable habitat for Pacific loons, which tend to nest along the edges of lakes and ponds.

Soon after they heard a talk by a loon researcher, Christy decided to build an artificial island for loon nesting on Connors Lake, Tam told All About Birds, a project of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

A first iteration of the island was built from spruce and plywood in the 1990s; later, Christy reconstructed the nesting platform from cedar logs and wired it up for camera surveillance. The island also was outfitted with its canopy, in order to protect the nesting birds from aerial predators like bald eagles, perhaps the most common Pacific loon predator in Alaska. Bald eagles are prevalent and thriving in Southcentral Alaska. 

Learn more about Pacific loons and other birds at the All About Birds website.

Thursday, May 31: Alaska Loon Cam host Jean Tam reports a Common loon has been spotted at Connors Lake, fighting for territory with the Pacific loons that have nested there each summer for years.

It's the first time she can remember seeing a Common loon near the manmade island she and other Anchorage birdwatchers have been hauling out into Connors Lake for about a decade.

Common loons look a bit different than Pacific loons. Common loons have a white ring around their eyes, something Pacific loons lack, according to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. Common loons also are identified by a pale collar and are larger than the Pacific loons.

Despite the surprise, Common loons are known to breed during summer months across the northern United States, much of Canada and Alaska.  

Here's what Tam had to say Wednesday about the encounter:

While fighting swarms of mosquitoes, we saw the female on the nest, the male swimming in the middle of the lake, and at the edge of the lake near us, a couple of Red-necked Grebes, two pairs of Ring-necked Ducks, a pair of Northern Pintails, and a Mallard. All of a sudden there was a small bird chasing a much larger bird on the far side, acting like loons in a territorial fight. It was indeed such behavior, but our resident male Pacific Loon chasing a much larger Common Loon! This is the first time I've seen a Common Loon on Connors Lake. Our male came up underneath the Common, just as it was swimming away. Did he injure the other? The Common swam over to the shoreline near us and hid in the grass while our male stayed in the center of the lake. 

 

Tuesday, May 29: Over the last few weeks, a pair of Pacific loons has been busy setting up for their summer in Alaska -- nesting, foraging, mating and egg making.

But these loons have had a little help from naturalists with the Anchorage Audubon Society, who construct a manmade island each summer on Connors Lake in Alaska's largest city. Their summer residence is near the home of Jean Tam, who for a decade has hosted a webcam that provides birdwatchers streaming coverage of loon life in the Last Frontier.

Here's a timeline of activities so far this summer:

May 1 -- Ice out on Connors Lake

May 2 -- Male Pacific loon arrives

May 4 -- Volunteers prepare and anchor the island in the lake (Slideshow).

May 7 -- Female loon arrives.

May 8 -- The pair is seen copulating on the nest area.

May 11 -- Shore camera is installed.

May 19, 8:30 pm -- First egg is laid.

May 22 -- Second egg is laid in the early morning.

About Alaska's Pacific loons

  • Incubation period for Pacific loons 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 mating on land during the summer in of Alaska and Canada.
  • Read much more about Pacific loons at the Cornell Ornithology website, which offers information on the natural aspects of a bird's life cycle.