Posted by: csdailyblog | April 4, 2012

Signs of Spring: Loons on Little Donahue

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The transition from winter to spring came to Conserve School earlier than normal this year.  The ice left our campus lakes around mid-March rather than in April!  The official date that the ice left Black Oak Lake this year was March 22nd.  The earliest the ice had left Black Oak Lake before this had been March 27th of 1945.  After the ice melted, the leatherwoods began to bloom, bears started venturing forth from their winter dens, and finally the loons returned to Little Donahue Lake.

This semester the students have created a community phenology book in which everyone records different observations of the onset of spring.  On the 22nd of March, a loon was spotted at the Lowenstine estate on Black Oak Lake; on the 26th of March, loons were seen flying over campus around 7am; and the space for April 2nd is filled with different entries all commenting on the amount of loon calls people have heard.

Loons and their distinctive call are often associated with quintessential Northwoods life.  At Conserve, students and staff alike leave their room and apartment windows open in order to hear the loons call.  The call of the loon is described as haunting and eerie.  The following link will take you to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site.  Scroll down the page to listen to some clips of the loon’s different calls: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_loon/sounds.

Little Donahue Lake is a regular spot on campus for seeing these beautiful water birds.  The Lowenstine Academic Building sits on the shores of the lake and provides easy access to the single track trail that circles the lake.  Little Donahue is a kettle lake that was left behind after the final glacier receded from Wisconsin some 10,000 years ago.  The length of the lake is ideal for loons.  Loons are a unique bird in that their bones are not hollow.  Solid bones help them to be able to dive over 200ft below the surface of the water while they forage for food.  However, solid bones make it harder for loons to take off from the lake surface.  This requires loons to have a rather large amount of open water to use as a “runway”.

Now that the loons have returned to campus, students and staff are excited for the chance to watch these birds paddle about the campus lakes and listen for their haunting calls.  It seems that to start off the season they’re a little camera shy, but please enjoy some pictures of Little Donahue Lake.

–Leanna Jackan, Graduate Fellow

Supplemental Loon Information: The Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, a branch of the United States Geological Survey, has radio tagged two local loons.  One loon is from Star Lake (Loon: ST), the other is from Trout Lake (Loon: TR).  The following link will take you to an animation that shows these loons’ migration patterns from the past year: http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/terrestrial/migratory_birds/loons/migrations.html

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