Squam Lake Loon Report: Chicks!
We have chicks!! I am thrilled to report that one of the loon nests on Squam Lake has just hatched two chicks, and the new family is looking wonderful! In the meantime, nesting is in full swing on the Squam Lakes, and it has been another very busy week for the loons! Three new pairs went on the nest on Squam Lake, although, unfortunately, one nest that was new as of last week failed. It was abandoned for reasons that are not clear right now, but I will let you know if I’m able to find out more information. So, the totals right now are 1 family and 5 active nests on Squam Lake and 1 active nest on Little Squam.
For your reference: DOWNLOAD THE LPC LOON BEHAVIOR BROCHURE
With the hatching of the first chicks, please remind your lake neighbors and other lake users to keep a respectful distance from loons and loon families. It is very important for loons to be able to focus on raising their chicks without being disturbed by the encroachment of boaters. Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) recommends staying at least 150’ (no wake distance) away from loons or farther if they show any indication of stress. In the case of this new family, the female is particularly nervous and intolerant of the presence of boats, which I can only imagine will be increased with the arrival of chicks. So please ask people, if they encounter this family, to stay at least 200’ away and to back away if the loons show any sign of stress. I have attached a copy of an LPC brochure showing some of the subtle indications loons can give of stress. Feel free to print this out and distribute it to your lake neighbors. Also, please let lake users know that non-motorized boats, such as kayaks and canoes, can be just as stressful for loons as motor boats and that they still need to stay at least 150-200’ away from a loon family even if they are in a non-motorized boat. Thank you for your help spreading the word about keeping a respectful distance away from loon families—we want to give Squam’s loon families the best chance to successfully raise their chicks!
Another way you can help Squam’s loon families is to consider volunteering to spend some time watching over them! Once again, LPC will be partnering with the Squam Lakes Association (SLA) for “Loon Chick Watch,” in which we ask volunteers to spend an hour or two on busy weekends protecting loon families from the approach of boaters. Please contact Melissa Leszek at the SLA for more information (603-968-7336).
Please see the P.S. below for “Meet the Loons of Squam: The Singles’ Edition,” in which we’ll meet a loon who started her Squam career in spectacular fashion, but things have never been quite the same since. As always, please contact me with any questions, concerns, or reports, and please report any sick, injured, or dead loons to Loon Preservation Committee at (603) 476-5666.
Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons!
P.S. “Meet the Loons of Squams: The Singles’ Edition”—Ex-Mink Island Female: This loon was first banded in 2014 when she was raising two chicks in the Mink Island territory. An unbanded loon had evicted the former female (the venerable Five Finger Point female, who spent a few years at Mink) from the territory the previous summer and it was likely this same loon; but, since she was unbanded at the time, I can’t say for sure. In any case, she did spectacularly well in her first full year at Mink, successfully raising two chicks. Her chicks could not have been more opposite from each other: one chick was an independent little explorer, the other chick was glued to its parents. As the chicks got older and fall set in on Squam, the one chick would be off beyond the boundaries of the territory, seeing the world, while its sibling was always swimming right off the tail of one of the adults. As November came to the lake and the chicks were 16+ weeks old and perfectly capable of being independent, the female left for her migration. My last view of the male that year was of him swimming with his one chick following right along behind, the other nowhere in sight. It was a fun family dynamic to watch that summer, and the female was off to a very good start.
The following summer (2015) started off looking like the pair was set to repeat their accomplishment of the previous summer. Both were back and settled right down to nesting. But halfway through incubation, an unbanded male came in and drove the territorial male out of the territory, causing the nest to fail. The following summer began with the female paired with an unbanded male (presumably the victor of the previous summer), but her old mate returned and re-took his territory. It was still early and I was hoping the pair would nest, but they did not.
2017 brought a mirror image of the events of 2016, but this time it involved the females. Much to my surprise, an unbanded female began the summer in the territory with the banded male. After the male clumsily kicked 3 eggs into the water over the course of 2 nesting attempts, the remaining fourth egg was abandoned after the former Mink Island female returned and drove the new female out of the territory. After all this seesawing of the territory back and forth, I was hoping that, with these original pair members back together, things would stabilize and they would get back to their successful ways.
But 2018 saw the now ex-Mink Island female as a single, and this year she set her sights on Kimball Island. The Kimball pair hatched two chicks last year, and this drew the attention of many loons, including the ex-Mink Island female. She joined a group of 8 other loons that began to cruise along the edges of the Kimball territory, each of them looking for an opportunity to take over the territory and she made several serious bids at it. But, in the end, she was unsuccessful, and the Kimball pair held out.
Given her interest in the Kimball territory last summer, I was concerned that the ex-Mink Island female would try for it again this summer. So far, that has not been evident and she is again a single. I have seen her between her old territory of Mink and her wished-for territory of last summer, Kimball.
When I think of her, perhaps what I remember most is the spring of 2015 when things were still looking up for her. She had come off the great success of raising two chicks in 2014 and there was every reason to hope for a repeat in 2015. She was on territory early, and her mate had not yet returned. I would see her alone in her territory, waiting for a male to show up. Then one day, as I was watching her placidly drifting around by herself, she suddenly became alert and began to swim very purposefully towards the north end of Sheep Island. There, for the first time that I saw that year, was the banded male, her mate from the previous year. The two immediately met up and began what I can only describe as an underwater ballet: they were diving and swimming side-by-side underwater, then breaking off while still underwater and circling each other, and then swimming side-by-side again. This went on for ~15 minutes, with them only briefly surfacing and then resuming their underwater “ballet”. It was one of the most incredibly beautiful things I have witnessed. Whether or not this was their first meeting of the spring, I don’t know. All I know is I felt so fortunate and privileged to see this, and I hope that, one day, the ex-Mink Island female will again have a mate with whom she can perform such a beautiful underwater “ballet”.