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Loon experts say more efforts are needed

September 01, 2010
MOULTONBORO — Much has been done to protect our state loons, but there's still plenty of work ahead, say representatives from the Loon Preservation Committee.

On Thursday, LPC Executive Director Harry Vogel shared preliminary numbers on the loon population following the loon census conducted in July.

The Loon Preservation Committee has eight seasonal field biologists and close to 1,000 volunteers across the state at 350 of the largest lakes.

This year, volunteers and biologists have captured 26 loons, more that twice the amount captured last year. Loon adults and older chicks are banded and their blood and feathers are tested for toxins, pathogens, stressors, and other biological issues.

The LPC has floated 77 loon rafts to act as a nesting site for loons, a record number. Loons nest on shorelines close to the water and nests are affected by water levels that are too high or too low. A video of a loon on Lake Massabesic taken by photographer John Rockwood showed the difficulty loons have walking on land, causing them to abandon their nests if the water level is too low.

Vogel said 67 chicks hatched on these rafts, accounting for a sizable percentage of the chicks across the state.

The LPC also floated signs warning people of loon nesting sites. Vogel said this is only done on a temporary basis and will not be used if loons have natural cover.

Vogel said 109 loon pairs benefited from LPC management practices

Two injured loons have been successfully rehabilitated and sent back to the wild. However, the bodies of 10 adults, nine chicks, and one immature loon were sent for necropsies. The LPC also picked up 49 unhatched eggs for testing.

One incident involved an adult male loon on Squam who was healthy when captured for banding and released, but a blood test later revealed high amounts of lead. The LPC looked for the loon, who had just swallowed a lead jig, to try to rescue him. Unfortunately he was later seen looking weak. Another loon took advantage of his weakened state and killed his chick. The weak loon was later found and had to be euthanized.

Vogel said lead jigs over one inch including the hook are still legal in New Hampshire.

"The loss of two loons is a serious blow for the loons on that lake," Vogel said.

Vogel said this year's loon census had 524 participants, which is also a record number.

According to preliminary numbers from the loon census. There are 550 paired adults in the state this year and 128 surviving chicks.

During 2004 to 2008, the number of surviving chicks was declining.

"We're really happy to see in the last two years we've made some growth," Vogel said.

Of all territorial pairs, 65 percent put down a nest and had an average of one chick per nest. Vogel said one chick had a 75 percent chance of survival. However, this year fell short of the goal of .48 surviving chicks per territorial pair.

"Made some good progress, fell a little bit short," Vogel said.

The number of chicks surviving per territorial pair did see a small drop.

One potential factor in this is the drop in water level due to a lack of rain this summer, which meant fewer nests. Predation by other animals is also a rising threat. The heat wave in July created difficult conditions for loons. Rockwood's photos included loons on the nest panting from the heat. Loons will spend around four to six hours on the nest, but under hot weather they were observed spending half hour to an hour at a time.

With the number of chicks versus the number of dying loons, Vogel said it is possible that there might be a period of no growth or a period of decline for loons.

"We won't have enough chicks coming out to replace these loons," Vogel said.

Other dangers to loons have included chemicals. Loons have been tested showing amounts of mercury, flame retardant, PCB's, and other chemicals that can damage loons and hinder their reproduction. The biggest cause of loon mortality remains lead sinkers and jigs, which accounts for over half the number of loon deaths.

The LPC has been stepping up public information efforts to educate people on the potential dangers of lead sinkers and jigs to wildlife.

"The work that we've done at present is not enough; we need to do more," Vogel said. "The only way that we can do this is if we have a motivated and educated public. The best thing you folks can do is get people involved in our efforts."

Also at the meeting, outgoing LPC Board Chair Carl Johnson was honored for his efforts. Executive Councilor Ray Burton presented him with a plaque marking his efforts with the LPC, including the golf tournament.

"You are truly a roll model for all of us," Burton said.

"Keep on doing what you're doing and help the Loon Preservation Committee," Johnson said. "We're getting to a situation that is very serious. We have to recognize that."

Jeannie Lewis was given this year's Spirit of the Loon Award for her efforts educating students about loons in Ohio and doing volunteer efforts in her current home in Alton.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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