This past weekend was a very sad one on the Squam Lakes. Loon Preservation Committee received several reports of a loon tangled in fishing line on Little Squam over the weekend, and I was able to capture it on Sunday. The loon was severely debilitated, underweight, and fishing line was wound tightly around its bill and neck. I took the loon to Capital Area Veterinary Emergency and Specialty (CAVES) in Concord, where an x-ray revealed a mass in the loons throat, which the vet attributed to the line being wound so tightly around its neck that the loon was unable to swallow food, and a lot of tackle in the loon’s gizzard. Sadly, there was no choice but to euthanize this loon. The only relief in this terrible situation is that the loon was not one of the pair with the chick on Little Squam. Thank you very much to everyone who called in to report this loon to us, to the boater who pointed out to me where the loon was tucked in near shore and helped with the capture, to everyone at Squam Boat Livery for their assistance as I was coordinating logistics to get the loon to a vet, and to the veterinarians and staff at CAVES for caring for this loon in its final moments. I am so grateful to everyone who came together to help this loon and only wish the outcome had been very different.
The fate of this loon provides a harsh reminder of the need for everyone to practice responsible fishing practices-to always use only non-lead fishing tackle and to reel in fishing lines when loons are in the vicinity. Many baits are intended to look like small fish or crayfish, and a loon’s instinct is to strike at something that flashes past it that it thinks is a food item. Sadly, as in the case of this loon, what the loon thinks is something to eat may be a fishing lure. You may remember we had an immature loon tangled in fishing line that died last fall on Squam as well. Please help spread the word to anglers to reel their lines in and wait until a loon has left the area-otherwise, they may end up with a loon on the end of their line instead of a fish. And please help spread the word to anglers to always use only non-lead fishing tackle. Lead tackle can be dropped off for safe disposal at The Loon Center, all New Hampshire Fish and Game offices, and the Squam Lakes Association. For more information on lead-free fishing, please visit www.fishleadfree.org/nh/ . Thank you for your help getting the word out about safe and responsible angling practices.
On a happier note, all 4 chicks on Squam Lake and the chick on Little Squam continue to do well! Many thanks to those of you who have kept an eye on these loon families and have participated in Loon Chick Watch! If you would like to volunteer for Loon Chick Watch, please visit https://www.squamlakes.org/loon-chick-watcher-program.
Please see the P.S. below for this week’s edition of “Meet the Loons of Squam,” where we’ll meet two loons whose pairing has been many years in the making, just not quite in the way I expected! As always, please don’t 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)-and thanks again to all who called in about the Little Squam loon.
Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loon!
P.S. “Meet the Loons of Squam”-Moon Island: Among the many things watching Squam’s loons has taught me, one of them is just what colorful lives loons lead. And a loon with one of the most colorful histories is the male at Moon Island, whose life has intersected numerous times over the years with his current mate -not always in a good way! But for loons, having a territory always wins out in the end.so let’s look at the strange series of events that led to the pairing of these two loons.
The Moon Island male first came onto LPC’s radar in 2010, when an unbanded male loon attacked the Great Island male, who was sick with lead poisoning, killed his chick, and took over the Great Island territory. The victorious male presumably returned the next year as the owner of Great Island, had two chicks, and LPC biologists were able to band him–now we could track his history eventually led him to Moon Island. Sadly, one of his chicks succumbed to starvation, likely exacerbated by disturbance from kayakers, and the second chick died of unknown causes. The following summer (2012), he was back at Great Island, but his mate spent 3 days sitting on the nest raft without producing an egg, and he decided it was time for a new territory. He set his sights on Dog Cove, leading to his first encounter with the loon that is now his mate at Moon Island.
The summer of 2012 was shaping up to be a good one for the loons of Dog Cove. The pair had two chicks that were 2 weeks old, and the adults were both experienced parents. The female had been in the territory since 2009, and she and her mate had successfully raised one chick in both 2009 and 2011. Now they had two thriving chicks.until the male from Great Island appeared. In the ensuing battle, both chicks were killed and it initially appeared like the male from Great Island was winning, but the Dog Cove male was not about to give up. The two males spent the next three days fighting; and, in the end, the Dog Cove male hung onto his territory and defeated the male from Great Island. But, in a case of loon karma, another male had moved into Great Island in those ensuing three days. The Great Island male had gambled on a new territory but lost all.
The next two years were difficult for both the now ex-Great Island male and the Dog Cove female. The male was a single loon without a territory from mid-summer 2012 through 2014, floating around the lake, picking the occasional fight to get a territory, but essentially down and out on his luck. The Dog Cove female still had her territory, along with her mate who had come through the fight to retain his territory, but multiple nesting attempts in 2013 and 2014 were unsuccessful. 2015 brought a change of fortunes for both of these loons, despite a rocky start. The ex-Great Island male took over the Moon Island territory.but the siren song of Dog Cove still called. His old rival in Dog Cove hadn’t returned yet in late May, so he booted out the unbanded male there at the time and finally had the territory he had always coveted…for about a week. He spent a week of bliss in Dog Cove, swimming around the territory with the Dog Cove female, but then his nemesis, the Dog Cove male, returned and booted him out yet again. So he settled for Moon Island-the territory he had just gained but apparently really didn’t want. In the meantime, back in Dog Cove, the female-having gone through 2 other males in the course May, was finally re-united with her old mate, and they successfully raised a chick in 2015.
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 both 2016 and 2017 as an unpaired loon. The male was still on his territory at Moon Island in 2016 and he finally seemed to be settling into a life of quiet domesticity-I was thrilled to see the pair go on the nest that year! But my elation was quickly tempered when his mate was evicted from the territory by another female within days of laying the egg. Usually this would result in immediate abandonment of the nest by the remaining mate; but, after all he had gone through, the male was apparently not ready to give up on that egg, and he just kept sitting on it, much to the frustration of the new female. She would swim around the nest raft, cooing seductively and seemingly trying to lure him off the raft, but he wasn’t having it and stubbornly kept sitting on the egg. However, loon parenting is a two-loon job, and he needed to get off the raft at times to eat and take care of himself, during which time the embryo died and the egg didn’t hatch. His new female finally gave up and laid an egg in the nest too, but her egg didn’t hatch either. However, for his efforts and stubborn refusal to give up on the egg, this one-time loose cannon male earned the “Father of the Year” award in my end-of-season Loon Achievement Awards in 2016. He was still at Moon Island in 2017, but frequent territorial intrusions of females meant no nesting for him that year.
But the stories of these two loons came together once again in 2018-imagine my shock when I saw them together at Moon Island this year! They seemed to be an unlikely pair-the solid, stable, good-mother female from Dog Cove who had fallen on hard times and the loose cannon male who desperately wanted the Dog Cove territory, killed two of her chicks in 2012, and was paired with her for a week in 2015. How ironic that they ended up as a pair but not in Dog Cove! But, for loons, territory conquers all-or, at least, whatever territory a loon can conquer. Despite all his efforts, he couldn’t conquer Dog Cove, so had to settle for what he could get-Moon Island. And she couldn’t hang on to Dog Cove but was able to take over Moon. So now circumstances of territories have brought them together. It’s not a terribly romantic ending, but it works for loons-so I’ll sign off by wishing them “Territorially Ever After,” and hopefully “Happily” as well!
Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons!
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