July 21 – 27, 2023Vol. 25, No. 6

Counting Loons

Fred Knight, Loon Count Assistant.

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 July 15, and was the fortieth 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 over 300 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 on Ingham Pond. Scott Chapman is my deputy coordinator for Lower Long 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.

Long Pond survey Aareas.

It was pouring rain with thunder when I awoke about 5 a.m. and turned on my phone to find a text from one of my neighbors who had waited until then to print off his map and discovered his printer was out of ink. I printed a map off for him and finished breakfast, as the rain stopped and the wind died down just in time for the count. I delivered the map and left my dock around 6:15 a.m., to pick up my counting partner, Fred Knight, at his dock on the way to our Survey Area.

I spoke to my neighbors, Jason and Sarah Toner, who were on their way to pick up Rose Talbot to count the loons in Beaver Cove. Rose is in her mid-nineties and has been counting the loons in her cove for decades. Our youngest counter this year was 9-year-old Emilia Selover, who was on her first loon count, helping her dad and grandfather count their sector. There was a low overcast but with practically no wind, almost perfect conditions for spotting loons.

Emilia Selover on her first loon count.

Our 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. Recently, this pair had been unsuccessful in raising very many chicks because land-based and avian predators found the nest and ate the loon eggs before they hatched. Four years ago, the Belgrade Lakes Association, as part of their ongoing study of loons on Great and Long Pond (more information in Dick Greenan’s loon articles), built and installed a floating raft nest with an avian guard (to prevent predation by eagles, ravens, and blue herons). The nest was moored about 20 feet offshore from the usual nesting site to provide the loons some protection from terrestrial predators such as racoons, minks, et al. When land-based predators have to cross water to reach the nest, the defensive advantage shifts strongly in the loons favor! For past three years, the loons successfully used this nest, but for some reason, were not successful this year.

Mike Brown with his 14-pound pike.

As Fred and I searched the cove, we spotted Mike Brown, of Corinth, fishing and swung by to see how he was doing. He had just finished landing a 14-pound pike on a large (~8″) lure called “Little Rainbow Trout.” We took his picture and searched the area around the nest with no success. We started back up the far shore towards the north end of our sector when suddenly a loon flew overhead and appeared to land back by the nest. We reversed course and suddenly another loon landed right in front of the boat and started calling her mate. We soon had both loons nearby in time to be counted. 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 comparable to last year. (For 2022, Long Pond, including Ingham had 38 adults and three chicks.) As of last week, least six chicks have been reported in Long Pond, slightly up from last year.

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. Or a parent or grandparent. You will be creating memories that will last. The 7 Lakes Alliance is hosting many interesting events, which are in the Community Calendar elsewhere in this paper. More info is available at the 7LA website. Pick up a map of the local trails from the 7 Lakes Alliance. Individual trail maps for most of the trails can be downloaded from their website.

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