Photo By Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer: A common loon readies to launch from Cupsuptic Lake, part of the Rangeley Lakes Heriteage Trust, on Saturday June 23, 2012 Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

As the ice melts and signs of spring emerge, loons return from their wintering grounds to start raising families across Maine’s lake landscapes. That’s also a sign for Maine Audubon to begin gearing up for one of its signature events—the Maine Annual Loon Count.

Scheduled for Saturday, July 17, from 7 to 7:30 am, this event has engaged more than a thousand volunteers for nearly four decades in a yearly census of Maine’s Common Loon population. On the third Saturday of July, participants head out in skiffs, kayaks, and pontoon boats to tally the loons they sight on more than 300 lakes across the state.

Last year, even with the pandemic, 1,347 volunteers and 48 regional coordinators were able to safely carry on this beloved outdoor tradition. But more volunteers are still needed to help find out how Maine’s loon population is faring. Tracy Hart, Director of the Maine Loon Project who leads the annual count for Maine Audubon, says, “We are fortunate to have a lot of spots filled, but are still looking for people to count loons on some lakes this year.” Participants from all areas are welcome, but Maine Audubon is specifically seeking more help in Franklin County for lakes in Rangeley, Chesterville, Wilton, Strong, Temple, and Phillips. For the complete list, visit maineaudubon.org/looncount.

Loon counters include all ages, from those under five to those well into their nineties. Some have been a part of the loon count since it began nearly four decades ago and are an integral part of the count’s success and training future loon stewards.

Maine Audubon uses the statewide snapshot to estimate the annual population and track population trends across the decades. The information helps biologists, state officials, and Maine lake users understand more about the loons’ status and the health of Maine’s lakes.

Maine is fortunate to house the largest Common Loon population in the Northeast and the Annual Loon Count is a vital part of Maine’s efforts to safeguard this population. “The count gives us a window into the status and changes in the statewide population over time,” says Hart.

Currently, Maine’s loon population is going strong. Since the loon count’s inception in 1983, the number of adult loons in the southern half of the state has essentially doubled, from an initial estimate of fewer than 1,500 to nearly 3,000 in 2020. This is thanks to conservation efforts like the Maine lead tackle ban and the Fish Lead Free Initiative (maineaudubon.org/FLF), which have helped reduce the number of adult loons that die from swallowing lead tackle.

However, other threats are increasing. “As motorboat operators, kayakers, and other lake users are getting back out on the water this year,” says Hart, “please remember that trauma from collisions with boats is a leading cause of loon deaths and the toll is rising. Boat wakes can also flood nests and disturbance can cause loons to abandon their nests. We encourage people to slow down, especially near islands and lakeshores, stay away from loon families, and learn to read the signs that loons use to tell you that you’re just too close.”

Maine Audubon’s Living in Loon Territory brochure is available for those who want more information. To learn more about Maine’s loons and find out how you can get involved with the Maine Audubon Loon Count, visit maineaudubon.org/loons or email [email protected]

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