FALMOUTH – More than 1,000 “citizen scientist” volunteers will be out on lakes and ponds across the state from 7 to 7:30 a.m. Saturday, July 16, to record a half-hour snapshot of Maine’s loon population for Maine Audubon’s 22nd annual loon count.

“It’s been a tough year for loons so far,” said Susan Gallo, wildlife biologist at Maine Audubon and director of the organization’s Maine Loon Project. High water on many lakes and ponds has made nesting difficult for loons, flooding out traditional lakeside nest sites. Storms have washed away existing nests and eggs, forcing many loon pairs to attempt second or third nests. As a result, loon chicks may be hatching later this year.

The 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. On average, loons produce only one chick every other year, and Maine’s loon productivity may be even lower.

The number of volunteers who count loons has grown each year from a few hundred in 1983 to almost 1,000 in 2004. 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.

At 4,300 adults, Maine’s loon population is the largest in New England. However, Maine’s loons suffer from 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.

Not only did last year’s loon count show a plateau in the adult population, it also revealed a decline in the population of Maine’s loon chicks for the second year in a row. Gallo notes, however, that historically loon chick numbers rebound after two or three years of decline.

Maine Audubon is no longer accepting volunteers for this year’s count, but those who would like to participate in the 2006 loon count can call Susan Gallo at 781-2330, ext. 216.

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