I had been waiting for this moment for thirteen months.
On the first days of July of last year two Pacific Loons appeared on a pond by the outflow of our water lake, Marcil Lake. It wasn't the first time I'd seen Pacific Loons, and when they established a nest a couple of days later it wasn't a first for me either.
But it was a little unusual for here. Pacific Loons breed in the High Arctic, but not usually this far north. There are many nesting a couple of hundred kilometres south of here. This, as far as I know, is their most northerly breeding record.
They were also amazingly accessible, probably on 20 metres or so off the road to the pump house where trucks get the water to supply Arctic Bay. My family and I visited these loons almost nightly during their entire stay. They became our loons.
It didn't hurt that this location is my favourite place to watch birds up here. It is a magnet for many of the species that spend the short breeding season here. It is a wonderful spot. And every day we went to watch the loons, and their two eggs.
Around the end of July, we were excited, anticipating the hatching of the eggs. But they didn't hatch. We waited and watched while the loons continued to sit on the eggs. They stuck through it, although it became clear that the eggs were not viable, and would not hatch. One egg went missing, and the last was finally abandoned in September when the loons left the pond, two days before it froze over.
So needless to say, I looked forward to this spring wondering if the loons would be back. Sure enough one showed up mid-June, followed by the second towards the end of the month. The beginning of July they had established a nest. Two eggs again, but would this year be successful?
Three nights ago we went out to check on the loons. We hadn't been out for several days, and it would be getting close to probably hatch dates. Pacific Loons take about 24 days from laying to hatch. There is of course a range of time over which the event could take place, but 24 days is a good average.
As we arrived both birds were near nest, one on it, the other beside it in the water. Thinking that that boded well, I decided to take a closer look, and as I approached, the bird on the nest moved off, followed into the water by a chick!
Success at last, but a qualified one. The nest (visible on the right of the above photo) still contained an egg. Given last years results, was this second egg not viable, or would it hatch soon. One parent quickly moved back to the nest to sit on the egg, but they were amazingly devoted to their eggs last year, well beyond when they were to hatch.
The next evening we were back, and it was a gorgeous sunny evening. The question was, was that sun shining on one or two chicks. The birds were both at the nest. They showed no signs of moving away, so I decided to get a closer look and see what had transpired.
As I got closer, the adult slipped off the nest into the water. There were clearly two chicks in the nest. It was, thus far, a successful breeding season for these beautiful birds. One chick quickly followed the adult into the water, but one (the newest?) stayed put.
I kept approaching, and the chick seemed nonplussed, and even the adults seemed not too put off. I'd edge closer than one or the other would let out a low croak, but beyond that they were not agitated. Certainly not as agitated as when a Thayer's Gull flew near by. If you notice in the left side of the nest in this photo you can still see remnants of the egg shell.
As they warily let me go about my business, they gave me some of the most glorious moments in nature I have had here. I snapped photos at an incredible rate, but more so I just enjoyed being so close to this family.
Soon though, the chick in the nest had had enough of me inching closer, and it made its way down to the water. I fully expected the family, once reunited and swimming strongly, to move off farther away, but they confounded me. They stayed close, never straying far from where I was. And I was certainly close enough that I didn't need to push the point by moving.
I watched the two chicks squabble endlessly, and the adults watching over them. Then I gave them the break they needed from me. The stayed close to the nest, and as we drove away, the chicks and one adult climbed back into it. The next day, they had moved away to the other side of the pond.
(as always, click to embiggen)