A wonderful tradition in the Wuebker family lives on. You might recall that we wrote about the history of our loon pontoon up at the cabin a couple of years ago.
Pete’s mom and dad were both “loon counters” on Woman Lake and decided the lagoon in front of the cabin was the perfect spot to encourage loons to nest. Don’t let this beautiful shot taken by Pete’s sister Jenny on the afternoon of April 29 lull you with an impression of warm temperatures. You’d be wrong!
This year the plan was to go up the last weekend in April to get the pontoon in, among other “make ready” chores that need to be done after a long, cold winter up north. We didn’t leave until after work on Friday, April 29th, but Pete’s sisters, Jenny and Teri, arrived early. Soon the text messages were flying in: the loons had arrived in the lagoon and were calling out, looking around for their pontoon! We were grateful they are such creatures of habit – this meant that they might not abandon our location just yet. We arrived late that evening and heard their mournful, unmistakeable calling as we settled in.
The cabin is located about 3-1/2 hours north of the Twin Cities, about a half hour southeast of Bemidji, MN on Woman Lake. The history of this area is tied up with logging in the later years of the 19th century. Resorts and hotels sprang up to accommodate sportsmen and vacationers in the early part of the 20th century. The Wuebker cabin began as a family compound on Pete’s mother’s side. They weren’t the only Iowa farmers who got the crop in and then headed north to enjoy summers full of fishing in the Northwoods. The Kee-Nee-Moo-Sha lodge (a short walk down a wooded pathway from the cabin) and other resorts still operate today.
While spring came early last year in Minnesota, this year is an entirely different story. Freezing temperatures and stormy forecasts were in the prediction. Putting in the loon pontoon was going to be a chilly experience, as well as a poignant reminder that Pete’s parents aren’t here this year to see it. It is important to everyone to keep this tradition.
Pete and son Ben were up early to get things started in the damp and chilly morning. It was 27 degrees F while they worked. Jenny, Teri and I watched. 🙂
The loon pontoon is a simple construct of PVC with a mesh platform to hold nesting material. It’s anchored with regular old cement blocks.
With the dock not in, the wind whipped up some significant whitecaps later in the day, but for the most part, Ben and Pete were fortunate to be out there in the calmest moments, if you can call them that.
The loon pontoon is always sited directly opposite of the dock to make sure that there is sufficient cover in the reeds for when the babies hatch. It is not uncommon for loon eggs to be stolen by all sorts of predators. A bald eagle had swooped down right in front of Teri the previous afternoon and snatched a gull right out of the water. As we were driving down the dirt road after our long trip up from the Cities, we spotted a large mink alongside the road, and other predators think baby loons are tasty, too.
Once the nesting materials (sticks, mud, mossy earth, etc) were placed on the pontoon, it was time to put the waders on and drag it out to the site. Brrr!
All the while, the loons were watching and waiting while Pete adjusted the setting and set the anchors.
Whooa, watch yourself! Filling the waders up with near-freezing water would not be fun!
That evening the biggest wind I’ve ever heard up there blew in, and the pontoon was rocking and rolling on the whitecaps like the Andrea Gale in “A Perfect Storm.” The next morning (May the 1st!) dawned with ice galore and even a bit of snow:
All the nesting materials were gone from the mesh platform. Teri kindly gathered more and Pete made another trip out to the platform to try again.
We spent the rest of the day watching for signs that the setting was acceptable. Finally, after we left to return home on Sunday, Jenny reported that one of the loons had clambered on and appeared to be settling in:
The family left for home today leaving me here to watch the loons. At about 5:30, the loons started talking to each other with a very soft “whoooing” noise. I watched them swim around the pontoon a few times checking all sides until one decided to attempt to getting on. I think by tomorrow, they will be moving in for good.
Daughter, Jessica, who had to stay behind due to work schedules, commented: of all gma & gpas traditions that we’ll carry on, this might be the one im most proud of.
I said: Thank God! I feel like a Jewish mother! “The things we do for you!”
And Pete, still feeling the lingering effects, replied: After two trips in those blasted waders they damn well better get up their and start making babies. 🙂
If you would like to watch another pair of loons in a similar setting, this loon cam is great entertainment. Somehow I think a similar setup might be in our future if we can figure out how to rig it. But not this year.
Ben is heading up to the cabin again this weekend with a group of friends to make sure all is well with the loons, and we’ve got the rest of the weekends in May planned that someone in the family will be there to keep watch. The egg laying and hatching, as you can imagine, are exciting events reported throughout the family!
What outdoor or nature-related family traditions do you keep?
Photo Credits: Jenny Wuebker, Teri Wuebker
- Loons Return To Lake Monona, Groundhog Looks For Home (dekerivers.wordpress.com)
- The sound of a Sunrise (margrowe.wordpress.com)