Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Learning To Keep Our Distance From Nesting Loons

2003-WFS Turtle Pd loon-7+t300There is a loon on Lake Placid’s Mirror Lake that seems almost tame. Sometimes when my family and I are out canoeing it seems to follow us. It is that very familiarity and comfortableness with nature that causes a conflict between humans and nesting loons.

Though Dr. Nina Schoch, Wildlife Veterinarian with the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) assures me that particular loon isn’t nesting if it’s in the center of the lake and not issue warning signs. According to Schoch there are specific ways for humans to tell if they are distressing loons.

Schoch assures me that hearing a loon hoot is just the way they communicate with each other. It is when people start to hear the tremolos (a fluctuating, high-frequency call) or a wail (similar to a wolf howl) that they need to keep their distance as the loons are expressing agitation or distress.

“A variety of things can cause nest failure. Predators, like eagles, can attack if nests aren’t well protected with vegetation. Ravens peck at the eggs and break them. We had a nest cam and witnessed a mink take an egg,” says Schoch.” Human disturbance can also cause nest failure, just like predators. We are so fascinated that we get too close, which is a cause for loons to abandon their nests.”

One common phone call her office receives regarding loons is reports of a dead loon, though most reported loons turn out to be nesting. Schoch says that one pose of a nesting loon is when it limply hangs its head over its nest because it’s trying to hide from predators. It plays dead.

Schoch says that nesting season runs from mid-May to mid-August. There are numerous factors for nest failure. The first nest may fail because of a flood, or if a drought made the nest no longer accessible. The loons could have been disturbed off the nest by people. With any of those factors raising a second clutch of eggs takes the loons into August. Common sense indicates that the second nesting of chicks will have a more difficult time of surviving come November, as they have less time to develop.

There are many opportunities to help loons. The best way is to heed their warning calls and use a long distance lens when taking pictures. There is also the annual loon census taking place this Saturday, July 19tth or help the BRI replace batteries and SD cards for 30 trail cameras that are located near Common Loon nesting sites around the Adirondacks. (The picture from the site was taken with one such field camera and captured extreme human disturbance at a nesting site.) There are also raffle tickets for a handmade loon quilt where are winner will be drawn during the Adirondack Loon Celebration Oct 12 in Saranac Lake.

Photo of nesting loon courtesy Dr. Nina Schoch, BRI.

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Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time. She writes about ways to foster imaginative play through fun-filled events and activities in the Adirondack region.

From her home in Saranac Lake, Diane also writes a weekly family-oriented newspaper column for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and keeps her own blog Adirondack Family Time. Her writing and photography has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, marketing companies and advertising agencies.

She even finds time to assist her husband with Adirondack Expeditions guiding families and young adults in the High Peaks.

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