Saturday, July 30, 2022

Banding and testing loons for pollutants with the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation

It took a whole week with temperatures in the high eighties before the thunderstorms made it here. The storms dumped almost two inches of rain at Eight Acre Wood overnight, so again I don’t have to water the garden. I did have to water my tomato trees that are in pots almost everyday during that hot time. I’ve picked a few cherry tomatoes which are a tasty bite. The larger tomatoes are growing daily after I pruned off the leaves that had no flowers on them, and now I can even see tomatoes growing.


Most of my loons have hatched their young, but I still have one sitting on eggs. The male was glued to the nest yesterday while the female was at a neighboring lake fishing. If the eggs are going to hatch it should happen this week. Sometimes the eggs get chilled in high water and the eggs are not going to hatch. However, the adults sit on them sometimes for over forty days before giving up. Locally, most of the nests have been successful this year, and there are chicks on many of the local lakes. If you come upon them in your travels, give them some space. Don’t force them out into open water when they are hugging the shoreline fishing and keeping out of boat traffic.


At the Moss Lake parking area, a couple of weeks ago, I met a couple ladies who were wearing hats with dragonflies attached to the top on springs. They said it kept the deerflies away as they walked the trails and that they were available at the Old Forge Hardware Store. You just never know what you might see while you are out and about. Speaking of Loons, the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation will be banding several nights starting on Friday, July 29 through next Thursday, which is a 9 to 5, all night job.


Ladies with Dragonfly hats. Photo by Gary Lee.


Using boats on the bigger lakes and canoes on the small ones, you may see what many call a “light show” in this area one of those nights while we try to capture, band, and take blood and feathers from these birds. We have been doing this research since 1998 on these birds (who are at the top of the water food chain) to determine if they have pollutants in their systems. We have banded and tested over 350 loons and tested several juvenile loons that were too small to hold a band.


The adults may travel to other lakes and fish, but the juveniles only get food from the lake they are on so they are true indicators of what pollutants might be in that lake. Early on, we tested some lakes that were acid and contained no fish. However, these lakes still supported nesting Loons who fed their young newts, polliwogs and aquatic bugs and some basic lakes that contained fish and supported Loons. Believe it or not, sometimes the loons on the acid lakes did better than the ones on the basic lakes because no one was going to these to fish and disturb these birds. After passage of the Clean Air Act (which cut down on pollution being rained on us) many of these acid lakes became basic once more and would again support fish.


The Loon population has been spreading out from the Adirondacks to surrounding areas ,as many of the lakes here have a pair and the lakes aren’t big enough to support more. It is a remarkable story just like the Bald Eagles, but they had to be raised and released, the Loons did it on their own. We do have a couple visitor nights where you can observe us banding these birds, one here in the Central Adirondacks and one up in the Saranac Lake area. Interested parties should check with the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation by calling  (518) 354-8636 to get specifics, as we will not know until a couple of days before we go out.

Loon on a nest. Photo by Gary Lee.


I’ve been out pulling wild parsnip in my travels, and you don’t have to go too far to find it anymore…it might be right in your own yard. If you’ve had your driveway graveled lately the seeds for this plant may have come in the gravel. It won’t show up that first year (only a floret of leaves like most wildflowers,) but look out that second year. It needs to be caught then and pulled out. Be careful as this plant, just like the giant hogweed, will burn your skin from the sap contained in the plant. You can cut off the yellow flat top flower and spray the plant with Roundup to kill it before the plant goes to seed.


Each plant can produce several hundred seeds and many in the area are almost to that stage. If you pull them, use good rubber gloves and cover your arms to keep from getting the sap on yourself. They pull easily except the big ones. I tackled a couple seven footers the other day, which had bases like small trees. I cleared the South Shore Road from the town line to Old Forge pulling over 250 plants. I did Rondaxe Road to Carter Station, pulling over 300 plants. These have been spread from gravel put on the shoulders of the road by the county and along the railroad by materials brought in to fix the tracks.


If you go to Utica, some of the farm fields are now solid yellow from the flowers. While doing the South Shore Road one morning, I was greeted by many monarch butterflies laying their eggs on the many milkweeds along that route. Some were feeding on the flowers, and other were just putting eggs under the leaves. The caterpillars should be showing up soon, and some are already feeding on the leaves of the milkweeds. The monarchs were just declared an endangered species this week, so they need all the help they can get.

Loon Banding Round 1, but that’s another story. See ya.

Photo at top: Male Monarch on Butterfly Weed. Photo by Gary Lee.

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Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

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