Volunteers to tally loons on lakes

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FALMOUTH (AP) – It’s time for the annual loon count in the three northern New England states.

In the state with the Northeast’s largest loon census, Maine Audubon and the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will launch their 24th annual count Saturday morning when more than 800 volunteers head out on many of the lakes and ponds across Maine.

The exercise helps Maine Audubon to create a snapshot of the size and health of Maine’s loon population while giving biologists more information about the iconic birds.

While Maine can boast having the region’s largest loon count, the state’s loons have very low productivity compared to neighboring states. Last July, southern Maine’s loon population estimate was 2,595 adults and 141 chicks. The adult total was a 14 percent decline from the previous count, Maine Audubon said.

In New Hampshire, the statewide total last year was 530, said John Cooley, staff biologist for the nonprofit Loon Preservation Committee, which also is organizing a census by volunteer loon watchers on Saturday.

Cooley said he hopes to put volunteers on more than the 117 lakes that were covered last year in New Hampshire, which he said has 175 active loon lakes. The annual census complements ongoing surveys by the preservation committee’s field crew, he said.

Vermont also stages its loon count in Saturday, said the program overseer, Chris Rimmer of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. As of midweek, there were 58 nesting pairs in that state, he said.

Susan Gallo, director of Maine’s annual count, said an additional component was added last year to its conservation efforts by launching a pilot study of loon-chick mortality with hopes of shedding light on how successfully loons nest in Maine.

The pilot study showed that only about half of the 38 chicks hatched from 22 established nests survived. The rate of survival is low compared to loons in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The biggest threats to breeding loons and their chicks are shoreline development, lead sinkers, boats and high levels of mercury and other toxins.

“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, a biologist with Maine Audubon.

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