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2020 Loon News

There were no loon chicks that survived till autumn last summer on Swains Lake. Although a pair of loons on the large section of the lake did hatch one chick that was seen by boaters and some residents during early summer, by mid-July it became apparent that the small chick was no longer with the adult pair. This particular disappearance does not appear to involve any (human) foul play, but instead is more likely due to natural predation. It could also involve normal clashes with rogue loons. These could have been loons who were getting close to breeding age, and were observed flying between Mendums and Swains Lakes this past summer.


Initially there were 5 loons on the lake, but during the annual loon census on July 18th, only 4 loons were counted. Among those loons seen, we can only assume one was our aging male, who was banded in 1999. This is because no one from the LPC, (Loon Preservation Committee), saw bands on the legs of any loons this year. However, not all loons on the lake were seen by them. According to LPC’s Caroline Hughes, “seeing the bands can be very hit or miss, depending on how cooperative loons are when people do population surveys.” When our aging male loon was banded in 1999, it was during a year he fathered chicks. Since loons don’t typically breed until they are around six years old, it is more likely this loon is around age 27 or 28! The female he is paired with, (if she was here too), is younger. The other two appear to be younger male loons, who are quite possibly just reaching breeding age, and challenging our older male for its territory. This could account for the high amount of loon activity lakeside residents heard during the summer of 2020. Young chicks do not fare well if the male of a pair loses a fight. While this seems harsh, it is survival of the fittest, and at some point in the next few years, these younger loons will successfully take over our pair and begin “their own story” on our lake.

In fact, back in 1990, a young male challenged and won over our male at that time, in a “fight for dominance.” This was heard over a large area, and took place during the late evening. Several residents of Mica Point went out on the lake in canoes and rowboats with flashlights, trying to save the 2 chicks. Sadly, they weren’t fast enough, and it also isn’t known where they intended to take the tiny “rescued” chicks had they been successful. We now know what is suggested by the LPC, and that is to let nature take its course. The male who was ousted from his position that year, remained on the lake, but stayed far away from the “new” pair. So the “reign” of an older pair of loons will eventually be turned over to a younger, stronger pair.


On another note, in early July, one of our board members received a call from a resident who witnessed someone on a jetski who appeared to be chasing a duck and a loon. He thought that the loon may have been hit. Deb Winter and Matt Niswender headed out to see if they could find it, and initially came up empty. However, a week or so later, Lake Hosts began noticing a lethargic loon that stayed around the boat launch. The first day or so it could dive, but after that stayed on the lake’s surface. Boaters saw what appeared to be an injured shoulder or wing.

Matt Niswender contacted the LPC who sent their biologist out, net in hand. Unfortunately, although they did locate it, the visibly injured loon could still dive and evade capture. After several hours of trying, they called it quits for the night. Other unsuccessful attempts were made by the biologist to capture the loon before it eventually disappeared. Although the resident who witnessed this incident gave a description of the jetski, he was unable to obtain the bow numbers on the vessel. Photos of incidents such as these can sometimes be enlarged so as to read bow numbers and are always encouraged as proof. Although the SLA is not the “Lake Police,” we are always able to turn these photos over to Marine Patrol to properly discern what is happening. Residents can too. A sad twist to this story is that the injured loon appeared to be one of the younger ones on the lake who was just reaching prime breeding age.


** We would like to ask residents doing spring cleanup of beaches, if they find the body of a loon to please immediately contact the LPC at (603) 476-5666, or a board member of the SLA. Cover the body until they can retrieve it. The LPC catalogs every loon death in the state. Board member’s contact information is listed in this newsletter. Please tell your neighbors who are not SLA members the importance of letting us know if anything is found. **


Another report of a “lethargic loon” on the small section of the lake was called in during late August. He was swimming in a cove along Rocky Point Road. Upon checking that report out, we discovered that it could easily dive, which meant it could catch fish, important to its survival. It appeared to simply be keeping its distance from other loons on the lake. This, we learned from the LPC, is normal behavior when dominance of a “new territory” is being established. We still encourage residents to call us if anything out of the ordinary is seen. We can then contact the “experts” if need be.


Total loon chick survivorship in the seacoast area, (of which Swains Lake Is considered a part of), was lower than the state overall average in 2020. That said, chicks in other regions of the state had higher survival rates, giving the total statewide for 2020 a slight increase. There was also an increase in loons occupying territories on NH Lakes, for a total of 321 counted statewide. Of these pairs, 216 successfully nested, hatching 204 chicks. 156 of these chicks survived to mid-August. Loon nests that were not successful numbered 111. The pie chart below shows actual statistics on successes and failures of the 2020 loon population on all of New Hampshire’s lakes.


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