Squam Lakes Loon News—August 13, 2020

Great news, we have a new chick on the lake! One of the two nests I mentioned as being still active in my last newsletter hatched one chick and it is now growing fast! The other chicks on both Squam and Little Squam are also still thriving, and the chicks that hatched the earliest this summer are just beginning to lose their down and grow regular feathers. It seems like only yesterday they were the size of the newest little chick!

Sadly, the news from the other nest that remained active was not as good. One chick also hatched there; but, unfortunately, it disappeared immediately. It was likely taken by a predator, although it is not clear exactly what happened to it. This was a very sad and disappointing outcome for this nest.

There are no more nests on Squam, so all the focus now is on making sure the chicks continue to grow and thrive on the Squam Lakes. Right now, there are 2 chicks on Little Squam and 8 chicks on Squam Lake. Please help spread the word to your friends, neighbors, and other lake users to be careful when boating and to look out for loons and loon families. Here are a few safe boating tips to pass along:
Please ask them to boat slowly and carefully in areas marked with Loon Preservation Committee’s orange “Caution: Loon Chicks” signs. Please remind them that the loons may be anywhere in an area marked with these signs and to look carefully for chicks. Chicks can be difficult to see on the water and may be alone on the surface if both parents are diving for food or if the adults are elsewhere, as starts to happen more frequently at this time of year.
Even if they are not boating in an area marked with chick signs, please ask them to be alert and boat carefully. Loons can be anywhere.
Please give loons and loon families plenty of space —- at least 150′ (the no wake distance) or more if loons show signs of stress. This distance applies to both motorboats and kayaks/canoes/paddleboards. Many people think they can get closer if they are in a “quiet boat,” but please remind them that the close approach of a kayak is just as stressful and potentially harmful to loons and chicks as that of a motorboat.
Please do not boat between the shoreline and the loons if the loons are in towards the shore —- this also applies to both motorboats and kayaks/canoes/paddleboards. Going between the loons and shore can push the loons away from shore and into more open water that is less protected for the chicks from wind and wave action and where there is greater risk of collision from motorboats or water skiers/inner tubes/jetskis. Instead, please ask them to go around the loons at a safe distance.
P.S. “Meet the Loons of Squam”:

Five Finger Point —- Every spring I approach the Five Finger Point territory with considerable anxiety: will she be back? “She” is the female from Five Finger Point, the oldest known loon on the Squam Lakes and the last of the Squam loons that was banded in the 1990s. Given that she was banded in 1998 as an adult with chicks and, on average, loons don’t start nesting until they are 6-7 years old, she is at least in her late twenties —- truly the Grand Old Lady of Squam, and most of those years have been at Five Finger Point! By the time you’ve reached that age if you’re a loon, you have more than earned the prerogative to do what you like, and the Five Finger female likes to delay her arrival back on Squam each spring —- considerably protracting my anxiety on whether she will return or not! But it is always a source of much happiness —- and relief! —- to me when I see she’s back for another year, so let’s look back at her long history in the Five Finger Point territory and her busy summer this year with a new mate.

Those early years in Five Finger Point right after she was banded were her glory years —- of course, we don’t know her history before she was banded; but, from 1998-2002, she fledged a chick every year except one, when the pair was forced to abandon their nest due to human disturbance. Five Finger Point was a very successful territory in the late 90s-early 2000s, and this female was a big part of that. But then things turned for her in a puzzling way: she was not seen on Squam in 2003, she was back in the territory in 2004-2005 but did not nest, and then she was not seen again in 2006-2008. Where she was during these years remains a mystery —- as well as why she went from being such a productive loon to being absent or not nesting if she was present in the territory. These will always be question marks for me and gaps in her story.

But, in 2009, there she was again —- back in Five Finger, this time playing the supportive partner to her mate that year who had an injured wing. Fortunately, he healed, but it ruled out nesting for that year. After seven years of the quiet life, she apparently decided it was time to step into the limelight in a major way. In 2010, she and her mate delighted people at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps (and, no doubt, were the subject of many pictures!) when they nested in easy view of RDC guests! The nest was also near a muskrat house, so the pair spent their days sitting on the nest taking jabs at the rather oblivious muskrat as it swam back and forth in front of them. Despite several weeks of fame and muskrat harassment for the pair, it ended in sadness —- just days before the expected hatch, the nest was destroyed by a mammal. Whether the muskrat finally took its revenge or if it was something else, I wish I knew.

After the excitement of life in the spotlight, the female apparently decided to return to a quieter life, settling in at Mink Island for the next 2.5 years. In 2012, she successfully raised her first chick since 2002 —- quite an accomplishment after so many years! But her successful raising of a chick put a target on her back for other loons seeking a territory where they could raise a chick too; and, the following year, she was driven out of the Mink Island territory. The next several years were a succession of years alternately being an unpaired single and being the territorial female in the Five Finger Point territory. She did have a nesting attempt in 2016, but the nest failed. She was a single loon again last year, and it looked like her fortunes were on the downhill slide.

But little did I know how much things would change when I noticed the male from Mink Island over in the Five Finger Point territory late last summer. Since it was late in the year, his presence didn’t elicit any serious reaction from the territorial pair, but he did seem to be making himself quite comfortable there. Many of you may remember this male as the winner of the “Klutziest Loon Award” in my 2017 End-of-Season Loon awards, after he single-footedly booted 3 eggs between 2 different nesting attempts into the water. He has been at Mink since 2014 and his tenure there was marked by a series of territorial intrusions, getting kicked out, fighting to regain his territory, nesting, kicking eggs into water, returning to Squam late and having to fight to recover his territory from the already-nesting new male, etc., etc., etc. In short, his life has been as drama-filled as the Five Finger female’s life has been one of steady persistence. In short, they would seem to be an unlikely pair.

But there they were this year, together —- definitely the odd couple, but an odd couple that apparently meshed! They got right down to the business of nesting —- but their first nesting attempt failed almost immediately, the victim of a mammalian predator. But they were soon nesting again, and this nest went for the long haul. I was hopeful this would be the year the Grand Old Lady of Squam would be successful again. Sadly, it was not to be: they indeed hatched a chick, but this was the chick I mentioned above that disappeared almost immediately, perhaps the victim of a predator. Based on the timing and behavior of the pair, I don’t think the chick ever made it far from the nest. When I went to take care of final business around the nest, the pair swam in, with the female floating near shore, making the soft moaning sounds loons make when they lose a nest or lose a chick. It was heartbreaking to watch and hear her, and a very sad end to what I thought would be the year she would again have a chick.

But the story doesn’t quite end there: when I went in to look at the nest, I found one intact egg —- in the water. Whether this was yet again the work of her mate, the former winner of the Klutziest Loon Award, I don’t know. You be the judge.