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Alaska loon cam: Late nesting season could pay off for viewers

Alaska Dispatch News

Every year for more than a decade, a female Pacific loon has descended on Connors Lake in West Anchorage, near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. There, for all but one of the last 11 years, the loon has laid eggs on a nesting platform constructed specially for her.

In recent years, the Audubon Society has sponsored a live-streaming camera mounted on the platform, allowing viewers from around the world to observe the loon on the nest as well as the hatching of chicks. The loon was first banded in 2003, enabling confirmation that the same loon has been returning year after year.

In 2013, despite going through the necessary motions, the female failed to lay any eggs, the first time that had happened since Audubon Society volunteer Jean Tam had been observing the loon from her home on the lake. Tam believes that may have had something to do with the age of the loon, which she estimates to be as old as 20 years.

“I think she was just getting too old,” Tam said of the fruitless 2013 nesting season. “That happens with birds.”

2014 looked to be another bust, with the loon arriving right on time at the lake and copulating but failing again to lay eggs by mid-June, when she usually lays eggs in late May, Tam said.

“She’s been very regular. … I could predict when things were going to happen, after all these years of watching them,” Tam said.

The streaming video was shut off June 11, but then two eggs appeared in the nest. Tam said she discovered the eggs June 21 when she spotted a loon -- a different loon than the banded female -- sitting on the nesting platform.

“I saw a loon sitting on the nest, went back in, turned on the cameras and stuff, and discovered two eggs on the nest,” she said. Live streaming resumed, and Tam said the eggs could hatch soon, since it isn’t clear when exactly they were laid.

Pacific loons’ eggs typically take about 25 days to hatch, so if they were laid shortly after the video was turned off earlier in June, the hatching could be “any day now,” as Tam describes it. If they were laid on the same day that Tam spotted the nesting loon, it could be more than a week until they arrive.

Which means it’s sure to be a period of great anticipation for anyone watching the loon cam.

Fortunately, despite the relatively late nesting, Tam said, the chicks should have ample time to get a bit bigger and head south for the winter.

“Pacific loons don’t need a long time to develop, whereas common loons are much bigger birds and take a longer time to develop and get large enough and fly away,” she said.

Tam noted that some technical hiccups are preventing the transmission of audio over the feed, which means viewers won’t hear the planes passing over the lake from the nearby airport.

Keep an eye on the loons at Alaska Dispatch News.