Happy 2019 Squam Loon Season!

Welcome to the 2019 Squam loon season!  Despite the late ice-out this spring (April 26th), the loons have gotten right down to business, so let’s get to the news!  Most of the territories are filling in with pairs, although there are still a couple territories where the loons have been sporadic at best—hopefully they’ll settle in sooner rather than later.

But other pairs are more than settled—we already have three pairs nesting on Squam!  These have all gone on in the past week; and, while this is wonderful news, one of the nests already appears to be in trouble due to black flies.  There is a species of black fly that feeds exclusively on loon blood (as if loons don’t have enough challenges to face!), and swarms of black flies descending on incubating loons can force them to abandon a nest.  I certainly hope this will not happen to the loon pair in question, but it is looking tenuous at best.  So, we will keep our fingers crossed for all our nesting loons and hope that more pairs follow suit soon!

The winter brought news from the coast of two of Squam’s loons.  Based on the band report received from an experienced observer, it appears that one of Squam’s single females was seen alive, well, and foraging off of Narragansett, Rhode Island, in February.  This was very exciting news and formed a welcome contrast to the other report we received of a Squam loon this past winter.  At the end of November, the Moon Island female, who, as I’m sure many of you remember, successfully raised a chick last summer, beached herself and died shortly after being picked up in Cape May, New Jersey.  A necropsy showed that she died from lead poisoning after ingesting a lead fishing jig.  This was very upsetting news that we lost yet another Squam loon to poisoning from lead fishing tackle.  One thing will always remain a mystery on this loon:  where did she pick up the lead jig?  The jig size and type could be used on either freshwater or saltwater:  it was not one of the large saltwater jigs.  She was picked up November 30th, and lead poisoning will kill a loon approximately 2-4 weeks after ingestion.  Loons with chicks are more likely to stay on the freshwater lakes with their chicks longer into the fall, oftentimes into early November.  We will never know the answer whether this jig came from one of her last meals on Squam, one of her first meals in Cape May, or from somewhere in between.  But the result was the same:  another loon lost to lead poisoning.

Deaths from lead fishing tackle are completely preventable, and there is a new way to help people make the switch to non-lead tackle!  Some of you may have heard last summer about Loon Preservation Committee’s partnership with New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game to launch a pilot lead tackle buyback program.  The program was so successful last year that we are expanding it to more locations this summer, and Squam Boat Livery is a participating location!  All you need to do is to bring one ounce of illegal lead tackle to Squam Boats and you will receive a $10 coupon to spend there.  Please visit www.loonsafe.org for more information and other participating store locations.  So please spread the word to your lake friends and neighbors to protect loons, follow the law, and make the switch to non-lead fishing tackle!  And don’t forget that the old tackle box sitting in the boathouse or garage  is probably full of lead—this is a great chance to clean it out and get a $10 coupon to Squam Boat Livery for your efforts!  A special thanks to Squam Boat Livery for participating in this program and for everything they do to support and protect the loons of the Squam Lakes!

Please see the P.S. below for a remembrance of the Moon Island female who died in Cape May.  She had quite a history, so we will take a look back at her life below.  As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or reports, and please report any sick, injured, or dead loons to Loon Preservation Committee (603-476-5666).

Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons, and here’s to the 2019 loon season! Tiffany

P.S.  Remembering the Moon Island female:  The 2018 Moon Island female first came on Loon Preservation Committee’s (LPC) radar in 2009 when she appeared in Dog Cove as an unbanded loon.  We were able to capture and band her as she successfully raised her chick that year, and she remained a steady presence in Dog Cove through 2015.  She raised another chick with her mate there in 2011, but the peaceful life she had lived in Dog Cove was upset in 2012.  In that year, she and her mate had two 2-week old chicks when the loon that was to become her mate at Moon Island (but who was then at Great Island) tried to take over the Dog Cove territory.  He killed both of her chicks and spent the next 3 days fighting with the Dog Cove male, but the Dog Cove male eventually prevailed, driving the intruder back out of the territory.  But their chicks were dead, and there was nothing the Dog Cove pair could do but re-group and hope for better luck the following summer.

The experienced Dog Cove pair was back together in the summer of 2013, hopping onto their raft early and starting to nest.  But something happened to them on the raft that clearly rattled them.  We don’t know what it was, but it appeared the eggs were eaten by a predator, so there was likely a traumatic incident for the incubating loon with the predator at the raft.  In any case, the pair abandoned their long-time raft and tried nesting elsewhere for a second nesting attempt that summer, without success.  Loons seemingly have long memories, and whatever happened to them at the raft in 2013 was not forgotten in 2014.  The pair were back on territory and were absolutely not about to go back the raft, with all its associated bad memoires.  Instead, they chose a half-submerged dock—all I could think was, “You have got to be kidding me!”  Needless to say, that nest didn’t last long, but you have to give the loons credit for trying at least!  Seeing that the loons were dead set on nesting anywhere but the raft (and making bad choices in the process!), LPC rushed a second raft out to the territory in a new location, and the loons quickly adopted the new raft.  Although their eggs never hatched, it was a relief to see how quickly they took up our offer of a new raft location!

After being part of a steady pair for 6 years, the Dog Cove female had quite the succession of would-be mates in spring of 2015!  Her mate was not showing up, so other males tried to step up—she went through two unbanded males in relatively quick succession early in the season, and then there was a familiar face: the former Great Island male, who had killed her chicks in 2012, was now at Moon Island but clearly still harbored the dream of taking over Dog Cove.  So in he came, booting out Unbanded Male #2, taking over this long-coveted territory, and proudly swimming around it with the Dog Cove female.  This lasted for all of a week—when, over Memorial Day weekend, his old nemesis, the Dog Cove male, finally returned, booted him out, and resumed his rightful place as Terriorial Male of Dog Cove.  The old pair quickly settled back into life together and successfully raised a chick.

Loons lives are nothing if not a roller-coaster, and, in 2016, the Dog Cove female’s fortunes plummeted.  I was shocked to see that she was evicted from Dog Cove in 2016, and she spent 2016 and 2017 as an unpaired female.  But that shock was nothing compared to spring of 2018, when I saw her in Moon Island paired with, of all loons, the male who had crossed her path twice before—killing her chicks in a bid to win Dog Cove in 2012 and her would-be suitor again in 2015.  But territory governs all for loons, and circumstances had brought them together in 2018—not at his “dream territory” of Dog Cove but at Moon Island.  As for her, well, she had a territory again after being a single for two years, so…whatever!  And as much as they might be the Odd Couple (she, the stable, steady, good mother; he, the one-time loose cannon), it was a pairing that I had high hopes for.  In the preceding years, Moon Island had been plagued by serious instability in the female territorial position, and she seemed like just the strong, stable, experienced female the territory needed to help it settle down and become a successful territory.  My hopes seemed borne out when they successfully raised a chick in their first year together, and I expected them to be a solid, productive pair for many years to come.  But the news from Cape May destroyed all that, and all due to something as preventable as poisoning from lead fishing tackle.

So we remember the eventful life of the Dog Cove/Moon Island female.  She hatched 8 chicks during her years on Squam, successfully fledging 4 of them.  Not only have we lost (another) strong and experienced loon to lead poisoning, it remains to be seen what her loss will mean for the stability and productivity of the Moon Island territory and surrounding territories.

Will there be a ripple effect of instability that deaths of adults like this often generate?  At present, there is an unbanded female occupying the territory, and I wish her and her mate well in the coming year and that they can pick up where she left off, raising chicks at Moon Island.

I have attached a picture of the Dog Cove/Moon Island female during her last summer on Squam—that’s her doing a beautiful wing flap! 

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