AUBURN – Peter and Judy Durgin of Auburn will be out in a boat on Taylor Pond looking for loons for 30 minutes on Saturday morning. It will be their 21st straight year taking part in the annual Maine Audubon Loon Count.

Joining the Durgins on their own assigned ponds are 24-year loon census takers Ellie Hopkins of Chesterville and J. Fred Hughes of Porter.

The four are among about 900 volunteers participating in the 7 to 7:30 a.m. endeavor on July 19 that helps wildlife biologists estimate Maine’s loon populations.

“We’re the Loon Rangers,” Peter Durgin said by phone on Wednesday afternoon. “I dubbed us that several years ago. Instead of the Lone Ranger, it’s Loon Ranger. We live on Taylor Pond, so we just go out in our little skiff, cruise around and find them. One year we had up to six and we’ve also had zero, but we’ve already seen two this week, so I expect we’ll have at least two.”

Durgin said he and his wife like to volunteer and believe that Maine Audubon is a good organization that’s attempting to educate people and control mindsets to protect loons.

“I took North Pond because no one wanted to carry in a canoe and do it,” said Hopkins, who lives on Locke Pond. “It’s been a bit of a trek on a logging road, but I love that pond.”

Like the Durgins and Hughes, she’s also very passionate about loons and protecting them, which is why she volunteers every year.

They are ‘delightful’

“They’re one of our oldest birds; they’re very interesting; they’re delightful to be around, and they are the living, breathing part of what it means to be in the woods. They are magic. They’ve got everything; they’re big, beautiful and they’re usually great parents. Loons are also good for ponds and people. If a pond or lake is healthy enough for loons, it’s healthy for people,” Hopkins said.

She either goes alone or takes along a neighbor or friend.

“We make it a party and then go and have breakfast. It’s a great way to start the day and, at that time, the water’s not choppy, usually,” Hopkins said.

Hughes, who has summered at Bickford Pond for 63 years, lives near Philadelphia.

Nobody tells the loons

“We have a pair of resident loons – two that we call our own – but the loons don’t recognize that,” Hughes said. “Every year, we see a loon here, but not necessarily in those 30 minutes, so we have to mark that there are no loons. Nobody tells the loons that they’re supposed to put on a show in that particular period.”

Susan Gallo, a wildlife biologist with Maine Audubon in Falmouth and the loon count director, said the 7 to 7:30 a.m. period was chosen for the census because that’s when loons tend to stay put.

“If we gave people more time to search, we’d run into problems, because after about 7:30 in the morning, loons move from and into other lakes and ponds,” she said. “It would skew everything if we allow people to write down loons they know were there, but didn’t see them at the right time.”

Last year, 833 loon counters cruised 274 lakes – 245 in the southern half of the state where 1,466 adults and 154 loon chicks were spotted. Another 29 lakes were covered in northern Maine, with 191 adults and 27 chicks spotted.

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