As the 30th annual loon count approaches (on Saturday, July 20, 2013), it’s a good time to look back and see what happened in 2012. The following was published in the winter issue of Habitat (though the typo with the incorrect loon count date has been fixed!):
More than 800 people joined forces the morning of July 21st, 2012, to count loons on 336 lakes across the state, from way up north in St. Agatha to way down south in Shapleigh, and from Perry downeast to Davis Township out west. Altogether, these intrepid volunteers counted a total of 2,007 adult loons and 148 loon chicks. From all their reports, we’ve taken a sample and estimated the loon population in the southern half of the state, from the 45th parallel, roughly from Calais to Rangeley, south.
The estimate this year fell about 10% from the 2012 high of 3,302 adults, to 2,977 adults. This is not too surprising, as the year after a record high count typically drops between 10% and 20%. This might be because adults have dispersed after being too “crowded” the year before, or it might be because yet another wet and rainy spring flooded nesting areas early in the season, causing would-be breeders to give up. That’s almost certainly what accounted for some of the drastic drop of 70% in the chick estimate, from an all-time high of 619 in 2012 to just 179 last summer. Chick numbers seem to go up and then down from year to year, never growing to match the number of adults we see on Maine’s lakes and ponds, but a low estimate is always a worry, especially in terms of long-term conservation for a bird species that is long-lived, doesn’t reproduce for a long time after hatching (average age at first breeding is seven years), and only in rare years will produce two chicks that survive to maturity (most often only a chick every other year, on average).
One way to invest in a more secure future for Maine’s loon chicks is to minimize human-caused mortality. To help do that, Maine Audubon has introduced legislation to extend the ban on the sale of lead sinkers from a half ounce or less up to one ounce, including the use as well as sale, and to include jigheads up to 2 1/2 inches long. A recent analysis of loon mortality showed almost 30% of adult loons collected from Maine died from the ingestion of lead fishing tackle between 1987 and 2012, and that about half of those died from the ingestion of lead-headed jigs. For up-to-date information about the status of the legislation, visit our advocacy pages. Or contact Loon Project Director Susan Gallo ([email protected]) FMI or to sign up for the 30th annual loon count on July 20, 2013.