What the Macoun Field Club did in 2020-2021



July 10, 2021: Loon meets balloon

Photo of Macoun Club member swimming along a marshy lakeshore

Swimming along a marshy lakeshore

Last week we were content to look into our favourite wild, little lake hidden in the Lanark County woods. This time, one of us took to the water on a mission of investigation.

Photo of minnows nibbling at Macoun Club member's skin

Minnows tickle, too

At noon a Common Loon had slid in to a gentle landing out in the middle, and it stayed there for an hour, tacking back and forth every few seconds. It was preening, making sure its waterproof coat of feathers was well oiled and tightly arranged. From time to time it raised a shower of water with its wings.

Presently, we noticed a strange object slowly approaching the swimming bird. We couldn’t make out what it was, but the thing appeared to be man-made. At one point it disappeared, as if the Loon had pulled it under. Fearing that it was a piece of fishing gear adrift, our best swimmer was dispatched to deal with it. Samantha returned with . . . the remains of a burst balloon and yards of pink ribbon. It had fallen out of the sky.

While we were discussing this, the Loon popped up right behind us, making its own investigation. Loathe to come out of the very pleasant water, Samantha hung on to a clump of sedges and let schools of minnows nibble at the skin of her forearms.

Meanwhile, her mother went off into the woods and returned with a bag of Chanterelle mushrooms, a delicacy for the family table.

July 3, 2021: Return to the California Road

Photo of Macoun Club boy by a wild lakeshore watching a snake eat a fish it has caught

Lemuel watching how a young Water Snake handles a minnow it has grabbed by the wrong end

Photo of live Gypsy Moth caterpillars resting next to one dead of infectious fungus

Two Gypsy Moth caterpillars courting death by hanging out with one already dead of fungal disease

We tramped down the winding dirt road a little more quickly than we did two weeks ago, hearing this time the singing of three birds that are typical of the upland maple forests: Red-eyed Vireo, Ovenbird, and Scarlet Tanager. The flamboyant Wood Lillies had finished blooming.

We got to sample the first red raspberries and currents. Lemuel, turning over each leaf of a roadside Common Milkweed , discovered two small Monarch caterpillars. We were not troubled this week by Gypsy Moth caterpillars, however. Though we found a few crawling about, great numbers have died from fungal and viral diseases running rampant through their population.

We left the road, skirted a marsh, and settled in our familiar spot for lunch. In vain we searched the far shore for the Black Bear seen last time. The lake, too, was empty — of Loons.

Photo of a small Water Snake holding a Golden Shiner by the tail

A small Water Snake dragged a Golden Shiner out of the lake

But there were fish, and suddenly one was flashing oddly. Lemuel leapt to his feet: “It’s a snake with a fish!” It turned out to be a young Water Snake, hardly bigger in the body than a pencil, though longer. Out in the open water, it had seized a Golden Shiner by the tail. Wrestling it to shore, it sought a place to drag it out of the water. Lemuel hovered over it for 15 minutes as it tried one thing and another, and different places along the shore. Finally it succeeded in shifting its grip toward the front end of the fish, and worked its jaws over the head. Just as it had its meal almost all the way in, a second little Water Snake darted in and seized all that was left in sight — the tail. But the first one had the best of it, and swallowed the whole fish.