Once again, as they have every year since 1983, volunteers across Maine set their alarm clocks early, gulped down some coffee, and were out on lakes by 7 a.m. to record observations about Common Loons in the Annual Loon Count. For half an hour, more than a thousand volunteers were paddling kayaks, rowing skiffs, or motoring in boats, scanning waters and shorelines on more than 300 lakes looking for loons in a carefully orchestrated count to assess the population of this cherished species.
For nearly four decades, Maine Audubon has been studying threats to loons, and uses this statewide snapshot to estimate the annual population and track 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.
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, thanks to conservation efforts like the Maine lead tackle ban and the Fish Lead Free Initiative (fishleadfree.org/me) which have helped reduce the number of adult loons that die from swallowing lead tackle.
However, other threats are increasing. Maine Audubon Wildlife Ecologist Tracy Hart leads the annual loon count. She says, “trauma from collisions with boats is a leading cause of loon deaths and 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.” More information, including Maine Audubon’s “Living in Loon Territory” brochure, is available at maineaudubon.org/loons.
Volunteers Linda and John Howard and neighbor Cathy Regios were out on Panther Pond in Raymond, as they have been every year since 1996. Dedicated volunteers, they care deeply about the loons and monitor the populations as best they can. They were disappointed not to see any nesting loons this year.
NewsCenter Maine’s Hannah Yechivi was out on Pushaw Lake with volunteer coordinators Rich and Marian Dressler and filed this report.
WABI TV reporter Owen Kingsley was out on Fields Pond in Holden with long time volunteer counters Ron and Shirley “Lee” Davis and Fields Pond Audubon Center Manager David Lamon. Watch the story here.
In advance of the Saturday count, WGME’s Rachel Vitello talked with Staff Naturalist Doug Hitchcox about the loon population.
Jennifer Mitchell, on Maine Public Radio, also talked with Doug the day before the count:
Reports from counters — some successful, others not — came in on social media, too.
Hart and her team of regional coordinators will assemble all the data and aim to have numbers out within a few months. She thanks the many dedicated volunteers who get up early, and are willing to go out under gray, foggy, damp conditions, all for the love of the loon.