Old News Archive

Hundreds of Volunteers Statewide to Count Maine’s Loons This Weekend

July 12, 2006 - TRC

Maine Loon Project kicking off new study of how many loon chicks survive

FALMOUTH, Maine, July 12, 2006—More than 800 “citizen scientist” volunteers will be out on lakes and ponds across the state from 7-7:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 15 to record a half-hour snapshot of Maine's loon population for Maine Audubon’s 23rd annual loon count.

“It’s been another tough nesting season for loons,” said Susan Gallo, wildlife biologist at Maine Audubon and director of the organization’s Maine Loon Project. Record rainfall has increased lake water levels, flooding out many traditional loon nest sites.

Loons nest immediately on the shoreline and need stable water levels to access their nests.

“I’ve gotten calls from loon counters who can’t get their boats or even their docks in the water because it’s too high,” Gallo said. “We even had a report of a loon laying an egg directly on a partially submerged dock—some loons have just been desperate to lay their eggs.”

The annual loon count, launched in 1983 by Maine Audubon and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is timed so that in a typical year most young loons will have recently hatched.

“Loon chick mortality from predators, lack of food, disturbance or stress is so high in those first few weeks that we want to find and count the chicks right away before they disappear,” said Gallo.

This year Maine Audubon is launching a pilot study of loon chick mortality that will add to scientists’ limited knowledge of how successfully loons nest in Maine. Data suggests the survival rate of loon chicks in Maine is about one every other year, much lower than neighboring states New Hampshire and Vermont.

To conduct the pilot project, every two weeks throughout the summer approximately two-dozen experienced loon counters will count in an assigned area of a lake the number of adult loons, the number of pairs attempting to nest, the number of chicks that hatch, and the number of chicks that survive to six weeks of age. Chicks that make it to six weeks old have a good chance of surviving to adulthood.

In coming years the pilot project will likely expand to include more loon counters on additional lakes.

The number of Maine Audubon citizen scientists who make possible the annual statewide count has grown each year from a few hundred in 1983 to just over 800 in 2005.

“Maine’s loons are fortunate to have a large group of volunteers dedicated to their well-being,” said Gallo. “This monitoring project simply couldn’t happen without them.”

Many volunteers not only count loons each year but also spread the word about loon conservation to local schools and community groups and encourage legislators to protect loon habitat and lake water quality.

On count day, each volunteer is assigned a lake or a portion of a lake to count loons and chicks from shore or a boat. After volunteers mark on a map of their lake the time and location of each loon sighting, regional coordinators tally the total number of loons on each lake and report the figures to Maine Audubon for analysis.

Reporters/Editors: If you’d like to interview a volunteer counter or accompany one on the count, call (207) 781-2332, ext. 241, or e-mail mmalin@maineaudubon.org.

The 2005 loon count for the southern half of the state estimated an all-time high of 3,013 adults but a more typical number of 314 chicks.

Maine has the largest loon population in New England yet extremely low productivity compared to neighboring states. Shoreline development, high levels of mercury and other toxins, lead sinkers and boats all pose problems to breeding loons and their chicks.

Maine Audubon has filled all the volunteer positions for this year’s count, but those who would like to participate in the 2007 loon count can call Susan Gallo at (207) 781-2330, ext. 216.

The Maine Loon Project is one of four volunteer citizen science projects directed by Maine Audubon, which are supported this year in part by grants from the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust and the Phineas W. Sprague Memorial Foundation.

MAINE AUDUBON works to conserve Maine’s wildlife and wildlife habitat by engaging people of all ages in education, conservation and action.

Submitted by : Marie Malin, (207) 781-2330, ext. 241

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.