The 27th annual Maine Audubon Loon Count was on July 17, when over 900 volunteers took to Maine’s lakes and ponds to count adult loons and their chicks.
While the Loon Count gives a half-hour snapshot of Maine’s loon population, Maine Audubon and about a hundred of its longtime volunteer counters undertook a more detailed study of loons this past summer, in an effort to determine whether nesting loons can successfully sustain their population from year to year.
Other studies in remote regions of Maine have uncovered surprisingly low levels of reproductive success, raising questions about the sustainability of local loon populations. Early in 2010, Maine Audubon wildlife biologist Susan Gallo recruited longtime Loon Count volunteers to undertake a summer-long study of loons in the state’s more developed regions, in southern and central Maine.
Following training workshops in three different communities this spring, these volunteers identified loon nesting territories at more than 50 lakes, then monitored whether or not loons nested, whether eggs hatched, and whether their chicks survived to the crucial age of six weeks, when loons can become self-sufficient. This close monitoring required committed volunteers who could visit nesting sites at least every other week over the course of the entire summer.
An initial look at the data suggests that loons in the more populated part of the state may fare as poorly as their northern Maine counterparts. Despite steady growth in the loon population over the last 25 years, as estimated by Maine Audubon’s annual loon count, a preliminary analysis of this summer’s research shows that each territorial pair in this study produced an average of 0.46 chicks – a surprisingly low number. Gallo hopes to repeat the study next year, in order to gain more certainty in her results and address some unanswered questions.
Notwithstanding those troubling findings, the preliminary data from the 2010 Maine Audubon Loon Count looks promising for Maine’s overall loon population – unlike past years, when wet weather flooded nests, this summer was relatively warm and dry, and more conducive to successful breeding. Look for the official 2010 results later this winter, both in the next edition of Habitat and online at www.maineaudubon.org.
Maine Audubon’s loon research relies on volunteers like you. If you would like to help, email firstname.lastname@example.org