July 24 – 30, 2020Vol. 22, No. 7

Counting Loons

Jeff Davis and Mike O'Connor out canoeing with their daughters, Milo and Ella.

by Pete Kallin

The third Saturday in July is the annual loon count in Maine, coordinated by Maine Audubon. This year's count took place on the 200th day of Maine's 200th year and was the 37th annual count in this important ongoing citizen-science project dedicated to better understanding one of Maine's most iconic birds.

Every year over 1000 volunteers, of which I am one, attempt to count all the loons on a couple hundred Maine lakes at the same time. It's organized like a military operation, and I am the coordinator for the dozen or so volunteers on Long Pond, which is divided into nine survey areas, with a tenth in Ingham Pond.

Early in the morning, all counters head for their assigned section of the lake to be in position to count all the adult loons and loon chicks in their area between 7:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. I left my dock around 6:00 a.m., planning to fish for a bit on the way to my Survey Area. There was light fog over the lake, but it was burning off rapidly as the sun rose and the wind picked up a bit. I thought about Carl von Clausewitz's "fog of war" and how it could even affect small operations like ours. Luckily, this year's fog turned out to not be a factor.

My assigned area was a cove that has been used for many years by a pair of loons that typically nests on a secluded beach on a small peninsula. Unfortunately, for the last few years this pair has been unsuccessful in raising very many chicks because land-based and avian predators have found the nest and eaten the loon eggs before they hatched.

To assist this pair, the Belgrade Lakes Association (BLA), as part of their ongoing study of loons on Great and Long Pond, arranged to have a floating raft nest with an avian guard (to prevent predation by eagles, ravens, and blue herons) built and installed near the usual nesting site (to provide the loons some protection from terrestrial predators such as racoons, minks, et al.)

While BLA members waited to see if the loons would use the new nest, a pair of mallard ducks discovered the nest and decided it was a fine place to raise a brood and climbed aboard and built a nest. When the loons showed up, they discovered the raft already occupied and headed for the beach.

Eventually, the loons laid a couple of eggs and began incubating them. Unfortunately, before the eggs hatched they were eaten by land-based predators. Fortunately, the loon pair decided to try again. In the interim the ducks had successfully hatched their eggs and were off the floating platform raising their brood.

This time, the loons laid their new egg (possibly eggs) on the new raft and are still incubating them. The chick (or chicks) had not yet hatched by the loon count so they didn't get counted this year, but hopefully the new nest will make a difference and the loons will be successful. As of press time, I had not received results from all of my counters but it appears likely that both adult and chick numbers are down somewhat from last year (2019 Long Pond, including Ingham: 41 adults, 7 chicks).

I also got a little hiking in and some foraging for raspberries and mushrooms, which are becoming more common after the recent rains. As the summer progresses and COVID pandemic restrictions ease a bit, more and more visitors are returning to our area. Brothers, Owen and Jacob Cox, from Moraine, Ohio got out fishing with Mike Guarino and his brand-new boat on Messalonskee Lake and both caught nice pike.

Recently I met Jeff Davis and Mike O'Connor out paddling with their young daughters Milo Davis and Ella O'Connor. They were renting a nearby camp with their families and when they spotted my 7-Lakes Alliance hat, they proclaimed, "We love the 7-Lakes Alliance and all the nearby trails we have been hiking with our kids!" They are definitely in the "take it outside" mode for their vacation and helping to make memories that will last a lifetime for their young children.

Take advantage of the rest of the summer and get out on the lakes or hike or bike in the hills. And take a kid along. You will be creating memories that will last. Check out the events at the 7 LA website and the sign in front of the MLRC. Events are being presented as conditions allow and the schedule is fluid.

Pete Kallin is a past director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, which merged with the Maine Lakes Resource Center in December 2017 to form the 7-Lakes Alliance.