The Common Loon – a New Hampshire Icon

Caroline Hughes

July 28, 2022  7pm

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For many, the haunting call of the loon is an important part of the New Hampshire lake experience. Often seen as a symbol of the northern wilderness, loons are a beloved fixture on New Hampshire lakes, and many lake goers enjoy watching them as they raise their young. However, the breeding season can be a vulnerable time for loons—they face many threats, both natural and anthropogenic, while on our lakes. This presentation will focus on the biology and life history of loons, the threats that loons face while on our lakes, and the work that the Loon Preservation Committee’s staff and volunteers have performed since 1975 to help recover New Hampshire's threatened loon population.


Caroline Hughes has been a biologist at the Loon Preservation Committee since 2016. Her work includes helping to oversee LPC’s statewide loon monitoring program, building and floating rafts and signs to help vulnerable loon pairs nest successfully, rescuing loons in distress, assisting with research into the challenges facing New Hampshire’s loons, and planning and conducting LPC’s education and outreach programs. 


Organization Bio: The Loon Preservation Committee (www.loon.org) works to protect loons throughout the state as part of its mission to restore and maintain a healthy population of loons in New Hampshire; to monitor the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and to promote a greater understanding of loons and the natural world. 

Caroline will lead a Field Trip to Martin Meadow Pond the day after this event.


(loon photos by the late Kittie Wilson)


 

The Common Loon Event Report

Caroline Hughes

July 28, 2022  7pm

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Biologist Caroline Hughes of the Loon Preservation Committee came to the park to talk about the work of her organization to encourage and conserve NH's loon population.

 
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It was a little wet at the beginning of the evening but our parking team - Bill Ghelli, Art Hammon, and Abi Medina were prepared.  The heavy rain held off until well after the completion of the program and perfect weather was forecast for tomorrow's follow-up field trip at Martin Meadow Pond.

 
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Dave Govatski, himself a board member of the Loon Preservation Committee, introduces our presenter, Caroline Hughes.

 
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Caroline began her talk with some general information about loons. The NH loon is 1 of 5 species and its location is the southernmost of all loons. Typically, people associate our loons with freshwater lakes but they winter over on New England's coasts as far north as Acadia Park and south to Massachusetts.

Like other sea birds, loons have a supraorbital gland that removes salt from seawater as it functions much like a kidney.

Loons return to our lakes in the spring, shortly after the ice has melted. They are quite territorial and are eager to race back to claim their nesting area.

They usually will return to the same lake as the previous year.  They require about 50 acres of area and a good nesting site.

 
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Males and females usually winter apart but reconnect in the spring.

They typically lay 2 large eggs (about 3 times the size of a chicken egg). One hatches before the other.

It takes about 12 weeks for the chicks to attain nearly full size at which point they are capable of flying.

 
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The young loons, once on the ocean, will remain there year-round until they are capable of reproducing (3 years).


These youngsters will then try to find a territory of their own in the spring, usually not far from where they were born.

Although they may be capable of reproducing at 3 years, due to several factors, the average age of actual reproduction has been found to be 6 years.

It's not known exactly how long loons live but they lead long lives. One loon that was banded back in 1991 in NH is still alive at 31 years of age.


 
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Although loons are capable of long lives, they face many threats. 

Because their legs are extremely far back on their body, they are very poor walkers and are thus vulnerable on land.

Their nests are near the water's edge and they are quite vulnerable to fluctuations in water level - mostly associated with dams.  The Connecticut Lakes in NH is a prime example.

Avian predators such as eagles can be a problem.

Human influences are also a significant challenge for loons such as:

  • shoreline development

  • contaminants

  • human-commensal mammals such as racoons

  • lead fishing tackle

In this slide, the causes of adult loon mortality in New Hampshire are shown.

Caroline talked about a ground-breaking NH law that through successive changes over the years addresses the most serious impact - lead from fishing tackle. 

 
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The Loon Preservation Committee's work since 1975 has had a significant positive impact on our loon population.

The Committee suvives through private donations. They have divided NH into 5 regions and have assigned a biologist to each region. NH has about 350 lakes that this group keeps an eye on.

Some of the activities of the group:

  • installing/maintaining nesting rafts

  • warning signs near nesting loons

  • public outreach/education

  • live loon cameras

  • lead tackle legislation and lead tackle buyback program

  • loon rescue

  • research

 
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The trend in the loon population is increasingly postive.  The middle line (blue) shows the number of loon pairs thru the years. The bottom line (bold blue) shows the unpaired adults population.  The red line combines the two to reveal the total adult loon population.

 
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As Caroline has shown, the trend in the loon population is increasingly positive.


Still, numbers for surviving chicks are low. Usually two eggs are hatched each year but the NH average of survival from a loon pair is 1 chick every two years.


One of the areas that has contributed greatly to our understanding of the loon and its requirements has been gained from the group's research efforts, such as:

  • Banding & tracking

  • investigating causes of mortality

  • studying effects of climate change

  • tracking effects of contaminants

  • investigating cyanotoxins

  • studying effects of lead on survival

  • determining causes of nest failures

 
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Thank you so much, Caroline, for coming to our park and sharing your in-depth expertise on loons, not to mention your passion for these marvelous creatures.

The Loon Preservation Committee has a wonderful website that we would encourage people to explore.

They have also posted marvelous videos on YouTube.  Search for: YouTube: Loon Preservation Committee. You'll be given a chance to subscribe.