LACONIA, N.H. (AP) – There’s good news and bad news about New Hampshire’s loon population.

The latest loon census shows a slight increase in the population, but a decrease in reproduction.

The Loon Preservation Committee’s preliminary count of 119 lakes found that the number of territorial pairs of loons increased from last year’s count of 224 pairs to approximately 240 pairs. The number of nesting loon pairs also increased slightly from 141 pairs in 2007 to approximately 160 pairs.

Both are record numbers, according to the committee.

But only 125 chicks hatched and 95 survived.

Reproductive success in 2008 was less than 0.4 chicks per territorial pair. That is less than loon population models say is necessary to maintain a stable population and marks the fifth consecutive year of declines in reproductive success.

The committee’s staff also collected 54 loon eggs that won’t survive.

The committee said the number of chicks hatched statewide was influenced by poor breeding success on Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam and Umbagog. Four chicks survived on Winnipesaukee, two on Squam Lake and one on Umbagog.

That ties the numbers from 1975 and 1980, the lowest figures ever recorded. The committee said all three lakes have also seen dramatic losses of adult loons over the past eight years.

Committee biologists have banded and collected blood and feather samples from 15 loons this summer in a joint effort by the committee and the Biodiversity Research Institute to assess the population’s health and the pollution affecting it.

The committee also has collected 12 dead adult loons so far this year, which are being examined to determine causes of their deaths. Initial results indicate that lead poisoning from the ingestion of fishing tackle caused the death of at least four.

The committee said that indicates state laws prohibiting the use of lead sinkers and jigs are not being followed. Tests on eggs also have found contaminant levels that affect reproductive health in loons.

The committee said shoreline development or water level changes also affect loons. It has floated 55 loon nesting rafts to help loons displaced from their natural nest sites. Thirty-one were used by nesting loons which hatched 22 chicks.

The committee also floated signs and ropelines around 41 pairs of nesting loons to protect loons incubating eggs and 44 loon chicks were hatched from these protected nests.

In total, 68 pairs of loons were aided by the committee’s activities and these pairs hatched 59 loon chicks, which accounts for close to half of the chicks hatched throughout the state.

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