Say hello to loons and ticks

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2008 - 6:32 AM

The late onset of spring has brought the iconic fowl to metro lakes, waiting for ice-out up north. Less lovely: the arrival of ticks.

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Loons migrating north are making a pit stop on metro lakes because ice has not yet gone out of lakes farther north.

The northward spring loon migration has become "like a car pileup," with large flocks congregating on area lakes to await the breakup of ice. The Department of Natural Resources got a weekend report of hundreds of loons on Lake Harriet in south Minneapolis, which was still about one-fourth ice-covered. Hundreds more were reported on Goose Lake in the city of White Bear Lake, according to Lori Naumann, non-game wildlife public information officer for the DNR. Loons always travel north in flocks about mid-April, but the late breakup of ice has them biding their time on open lakes across the metro area, resting and feeding, Naumann said.

Loons, the Minnesota state bird, can only get food underwater.

While the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis and other area lakes went ice-free over the weekend, the much larger Lake Minnetonka may not be declared clear until this weekend, according to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Water Patrol. Friday would be the latest clearing in more than 30 years. All large lakes to the north remain frozen.

Loons are not under any kind of travel deadline, Naumann said; they'll mate and lay eggs whenever they get to their northern breeding lakes.

Meanwhile, the onset of thawing temperatures and yard work have combined for a sudden reacquaintance with a creature much less endearing than loons: ticks.

University of Minnesota Extension entomologist Jeff Hahn said Monday that his office has already received samples of ticks to determine whether they might be disease-carrying deer ticks.

"It's the season. I suspect people are more than happy to see it versus the cold, snowy weather we've had," Hahn said.

Minnesotans most commonly encounter wood ticks and their much smaller relatives, deer ticks. Of the two, deer ticks are more likely to carry disease. Minnesota saw record numbers of cases of Lyme disease and two other deer tick-borne diseases in 2007, said Melissa Kemperman, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Ticks appear to be increasing in numbers across Minnesota. Despite the long, cold recent winter, "I think there are still going to be plenty of ticks out there," Kemperman added.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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