Saturday, August 5, 2023

Three nights of loon banding, reminder to give loon families space

Loon banding on Sixth Lake

The temperature here this morning [August 1] was forty [degrees]…much cooler than the folks to the south and west of us are feeling. It rained two and a half inches here on Saturday, [July 29.] [This] got a few wet who thought the rain was coming later and they got caught out in a downpour…which soaked many to the skin. It rained so hard, it washed a little gully going down the road to the pond. [I’m] happy to report the male Loon which had the fishing plug in his tongue is back with his family this week on Limekiln Lake doing chick care as the female worked hard catching fish for their chick.


If you’re out and about on our local lakes, there are Loon families out there with you. If you are fishing (using live bait or plug and lures that look like live bait) don’t fish near one of these families as Loons can swim very fast underwater and take a bite at one of your baits or lures. Then you have a problem, and the Loon has a problem…your hook in its tongue. So be careful out there, and don’t fish near a Loon or a Loon family.

Our last three nights of Loon banding went very well as we caught several new adult Loons and a few Loons that we had banded in years past. It is good to catch a banded Loon as we can check the pollutant levels in their blood and feather samples from this year [and compare those] to what it had the first time it was caught and banded. The first night, we went to Lake Abanakee where there were three pairs of Loons nesting this year. Two pairs had chicks and the third pair just lost their nest this week. Someone had put in a new platform up at the upper end of the lake and the pair there had two chicks.


The crews went up and caught both adults and the two chicks and they were taken back up to that territory after processing. The pair just above the causeway had gone under the causeway with their family and one adult and one chick was caught and processed. We quit just after 3 a.m., so it was an early night to bed. The second night, we started on First Lake of the Fulton Chain [of Lakes] which also had three Loon territories (two of which had chicks, and one nest failed.) The outlet pair had two chicks and we found them along the south shore. I caught the female of the pair and we put [her] on Don Andrew’s lap in the boat. Then I caught the banded male of the pair and got it on my lap to go ashore for processing.

Foggy sunrise at Gibbs Lake

Foggy sunrise at Gibbs Lake. Photo by Gary Lee.

Being banded, it doesn’t take as long to process a bird, we only need to take feather and blood samples, bill measurements, take their weight, and they can be released. If the plastic bands are older, they sometimes are replaced with duplicate bands. Since we have been banding since 1998, we do come across some bands missing or so weak [that] they need replacing. We went right back out to try for the Dog Island pair who had one chick. We found the male, or he found us, and I had him in the net…and he got out. He was a banded Loon and he let the whole south shore know that he was mad, and woke up the neighborhood. The other boat moved in and caught the female and chick to take in for processing.


We moved up to Second Lake where there was a pair with two chicks. It was very foggy, and we found the pair who are both banded, and they didn’t want to be caught. The chicks were a little bigger and they were divers [as well]…after their parents told them to hide. In the fog, they stopped calling and we couldn’t find them again, so we quit. We dropped the boats and went to Gibbs Lake where there was a pair and two chicks. [We carried] all the gear and one canoe down to the lake, which was solid fog when you turned on your light. The catch crew saw both adults and the two chicks a couple times, but never got close enough in the fog to catch them. We quit at sunrise when the Loons could see the canoe.


The third night, was visitor night at Sixth Lake where we had about fifteen visitors (some of whom got to hold a chick.) We only used one boat so we could use the other one later if we [had] time, and didn’t have to wash it. The crew went out and caught the banded female and one chick. Then [they] went out and caught the male and other chick. They all got processed and released with lots of picture taking. We left there and went to Dart’s Lake where there was a pair and one chick. It was very foggy and neither of these birds would hold for the light in the fog. None were caught, so we moved up the road to Twitchell Lake.


Going up in elevation, the fog wasn’t too bad. We had about an hour of catch time where the pair and two chicks were in sight of the launch. The catch crew had the male in the net twice and he climbed out both times. [He] did the same thing to me last year…smart Loon. The female disappeared, so the crew caught both chicks who gave a little blood and feathers and were released, [as they were] too small to band. [It] just goes to show that you don’t catch them all…just like fishing. We caught 29 Loons in six nights, [including] 13 adults (five which were banded and 16 chicks which were all too small to band,) but most gave us a blood and feather sample.


Butterflies are loving the milkweeds, but that’s another story. See ya.


Photo at top: Loon banding on Sixth Lake. Photo by Kathy Ruscitto.

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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."

3 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Thanks again Gary!

    In general, I like to “catch and release” when I fish. To do this effectively, it is almost mandatory to crimp down or remove barbs from hooks. It is also good to avoid treble hooks if a single hook will do. You may lose a fish now and then if you don’t keep the line taught, But the fish comes off the hook quickly and helps them survive the incident with minimal stress and damage. But also important is how much more easily they can be removed from clothing, ears and eyebrows – not to mention eyes. It also makes it easier for non-target wildlife who get hooked to work the hook out of their mouths and bodies – especially if the hook/lure is no longer attached to line.

    Of course, if you lose any line or terminal tackle, it is your responsibility to try and retrieve it – not an animal. Barbless hooks can help retrieve snagged lures. Using short tippets that break earlier than you main line, or break-away clips also can cut down on lost line.

    Often, when surf-casting saltwater lures at the ocean, a passing gull will nab the lure in the air, or get caught in the line as the lure is sailing. It is quite simple to carefully reel them in, cover them with a hat, shirt, or towel, cut any line, and remove the hook with a simple pair of pliers. Trying to removed a barbed hook causes considerably more stress, pain, and damage to tissue.

  2. Janet Wakefield says:

    Please report on findings of loon blood and feather samples. Very interesting article. Thanks to the night banding crew for help in understanding and protecting these wonderful birds.

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