Looking Good! Meet the Loons from Sandwich Bay

The loon chicks of the Squam Lakes continue to do well! I’m happy to report that all 4 chicks on Squam Lake and the single chick on Little Squam are thriving! As the chicks grow, they continue to range farther into open water and areas of active, high-speed boating, so please remind your neighbors and other lake users to boat carefully in areas of the lake marked by orange “Caution: Loon Chick” signs and be aware that loons and chicks could be anywhere in those areas. Also, please remind people to stay at least 150′ away from loons and loon families (i.e., no-wake distance). Thank you for your help getting the word out!

If you feel like having a great dinner and supporting loons at the same time, come to The New Woodshed this Sunday (8/20) for “Loon Appreciation Night”! A portion of the sales will be donated to benefit Loon Preservation Committee (LPC). And please join us at The Loon Center next Thursday (8/23) for our Volunteer Appreciation Potluck at 5:30 followed by a presentation by Harry Vogel, LPC’s Senior Biologist, giving a first look at what the 2018 season was like for New Hampshire’s loons! If you can’t make the potluck, please still join us at 7:00 for Harry’s talk. Please see attached flyers for more information on both events. Hope you can join us in the coming week to celebrate loons!

Please see the P.S. below for this week’s edition of “Meet the Loons of Squam,” in which we’ll visit two loons for whom pairing up is always optional. As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any reports or questions, and please contact the Loon Preservation Committee to report any sick, injured, or dead loons (603-476-5666).

Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons!

P.S. “Meet the Loons of Squam”: Sandwich Bay-This week we’ll head down to Sandwich Bay and meet a “pair” of loons who apparently consider pairing up to be optional. Much to my disappointment, this year was one of the “off” years for them-both loons were present in the territory, but they did not actually form a pair. But let’s back up and meet this on-again-off-again twosome.

The Sandwich loons first paired up in 2011. Before that, the male had been at the Yard Islands, where he successfully hatched a chick in 2008 with the incredible Yard Islands female who died from lead tackle ingestion last August, as I’m sure many of you will remember. But he was evicted from the Yards by another male early in 2009, and retreated to the fringes of the Sandwich Bay territory for the remainder of summer. He was an unpaired loon in 2010 but was continuing to size up the Sandwich Bay territory-and, by 2011, he had made his move and become the territorial male in Sandwich Bay! That year, he and his mate had a chick and were both captured during LPC’s banding that year. His mate was previously unbanded, so we don’t know her history before that point. However, one thing we learned after banding both of these loons caused us some concern. During banding, we always take a small blood sample from the loons that we run for various health tests, including testing for lead levels. The lead levels for both of these loons were somewhat elevated-not high enough to be toxic, but certainly elevated above background levels. Needless to say, I was watching these loons with a great deal of concern for the remainder of the summer, but, fortunately, the pair successfully raised their chick to fledging and all seemed well. I was wondering if they would survive to return the following year, and I could not have been happier when they did. So the question remains-what was the source of these slightly elevated lead levels? Given that both pair members had these levels suggests perhaps an environmental source in this part of the lake that caused their levels to be higher than background but not nearly at the toxic levels we see when a loon has ingested lead tackle. It still remains a mystery.

Fortunately, the loons were able to overcome any immediate effects of this exposure, raise their chick, and return to their territory the following year-but chick production, nesting, and even pairing has remained elusive since then. Fresh off successfully raising a chick, they should have been right back about the business of nesting in 2012.but they weren’t. Nor did they show any signs of nesting in 2013 before the female was driven out of the territory in mid-summer. She was the last of the females to fall in the “snowball effect” of female territorial evictions that rolled down the lake that summer. In 2014, the male was all ready to nest and spent the beginning of the summer sitting right next to the nesting area.but there was no female in sight. The days passed and he patiently waited and waited and waited for a female to come to the territory. Finally, SHE returned, the same female he had been with since taking over Sandwich Bay! Well, no rapturous reunions here-by that time, the male had had it with waiting and they never paired that year.

Finally, after all these years of not nesting, they got down to the business of nesting each year from 2015-2017; unfortunately, they have always been unsuccessful-territorial intrusions by other loons seemed to have contributed to nest failures in these years. This was extremely disappointing-not only are we always hoping for successful nestings and chicks, but we are also interested to monitor the lead levels in these loons and see if they continue to be exposed to an environmental source of lead. So I began 2018 with hopes for this pair that this would be the year of more chicks in Sandwich Bay. Much to my disappointment, my hopes were gradually dashed. The year began optimistically enough, as I spotted both of the loons in the territory, but there was a nagging worry in my mind as the “pair members” were at opposite ends of the territory from each other and nowhere near the nest area. But I tried to rationalize it-it was still early, they had plenty of time, etc., etc., etc. Soon enough, however, I could no longer make excuses for them-especially as the female was nowhere to be seen after my initial sighting early in the year. Soon I was reduced to watching the male spending the summer by himself in Sandwich Bay. I do not have an answer as to why the female put in an early appearance but did not pair up with her mate. I can only hope that next year will bring better things for these loons-a pairing, a nest, and hopefully a chick or two!

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