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Loon Preservation Committee News

Volunteers for the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) had a busy season this year, contacting member lakes regarding their needs for nesting sites. Whether it was ropes and “keep-away” markers, (which we use), or man-made islands for them to nest on, they made themselves available to help. LPC volunteers and staff rescued 21 loons from various predicaments, and banded 32, so they can keep track of them as years pass.


Population numbers are finalized for the year, and 626 adult loons paired up on NH Lakes, making 313 actual pairs. Of those 221 pairs actually nested. 113 unpaired adult loons can be added to this count. 193 chicks were hatched, and 148 of those survived through at least mid-August. This contrasted to an all time high of 101 nesting pairs (202 adult loons) in the state of Vermont. According to an article in the NH Union Leader, the total loon population in New England has seen a slow, gradual recovery. LPC Executive Director Harry Vogel says “this has not just happened. We have made it happen through intensified conservation efforts.” That said, the loon population here in NH is still listed as “threatened.”


When loons are helped by the LPC, they are always taken to a vet to determine any level of lead poisoning from sinkers they may have swallowed. Although the sale of lead fishing tackle has been banned in NH since 2016, many fisherman still have it in attics, and occasionally use it. Loons usually ingest this line when they eat a fish that has bitten tackle, broken the line, and swam off. The fish digests but the lead tackle does not. The line then wraps around the bird’s beak, neck and other parts. If a loon is determined to have lead poisoning, and is beyond veterinary help, it is humanely euthanized. Loon rescues that occur in late fall, usually involve chicks who have not cleared their lake before ice closes in. For these rescues, the LPC relies on calls from lakeside residents.


On the downside, 3 of the 21 loon fatalities were from avian malaria, and 6

were confirmed to have lead poisoning. A 7th fatality had an unidentifiable metal object in its stomach believed to be tackle. Three other suspected mortalities have yet to be autopsied, but their x-rays show metal in their stomachs that are potentially lead. This could make 10 fatalities from lead in a state where lead fishing gear has been banned for over 2 years. The LPC and Fish and Game continue to partner with a number of tackle shops, (9 in 2019), to exchange one ounce or more of lead sinkers and jigs, each weighing one ounce or less. In return those exchanging old lead tackle get a gift certificate worth $10 to be used at that store. For information and stores participating in the program for 2020 visit < loonsafe.org > in the late spring when the updated list is announced.


Although our nest here on Swains Lake did not produce a successful outcome for chicks, it was noted by LPC biologist Caroline Hughes at our Annual Meeting in August, that the male of our pair, at age 27, is nearing the end of his breeding days. He may have been challenged by young males that flew to our lake at night. In cases where a male dominates over another that has bred with a female, they in turn will kill any hatched chicks and mate with the female themselves. Information the LPC has learned from banding loons is that they are more loyal to their territory, than they are to a mate. It was previously thought loons were loyal to each other and possibly mated for life. We now know this is not true. Should a younger male overtake the patriarch of Swains Lake, the female he was mated with will remain in her territory with the new, younger male. When our female gets older, and younger females enter the picture, the process repeats itself.



When loons leave New England lakes in the autumn, they don’t have far to fly. As seen from the migration paths on the map below, most simply fly to open waters offshore, while others head just south of Cape Cod. It is interesting to note that loons in New England are larger than loons in the northern midwest. It is surmised this is because our loons don’t need to fly as far, and hence, have evolved larger. Northern midwest loons migrate much greater distances, to the Gulf Of Mexico, and Southeastern US coastlines, and therefore, are smaller in order to fly the greater distances.


For various activities put on by the LPC, or to see the summer schedule of events as they are announced, log on to www.loon.org.

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