Squam Lakes Loon Report: Squam Loon Achievement Awards!

It’s hard to believe it’s September already, but I guess the ever-growing loon chicks should have given me a clue! All 4 loon chicks on Squam Lake and the chick on Little Squam continue to do very well. At this point, they have all lost their down, are in their juvenal plumage, and are beautiful young loons, ranging in age from 8.5 weeks to 11 weeks. This will be my final newsletter of the season, so let’s recap the 2019 year for Squam’s loons: on Little Squam, we had 1 territorial pair, which nested and hatched 2 chicks, of which 1 is still alive and thriving on copious numbers of crayfish provided by its obliging parents. On Squam Lake, we had 12 territorial pairs, and 10 of those pairs nested (with 11 nesting attempts between them). Four chicks hatched between 3 families, and all four are doing beautifully! While fewer chicks hatched on Squam Lake this year compared with last year (4 vs. 6 in 2018), we have more surviving chicks (4 vs. 3 in 2018)—so that is good news! Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) will be working hard to help that improvement continue next year!

Thanks to all of you who were watching out for the tangled loon I reported on in my previous e-newsletter. Unfortunately, despite much searching by myself and others, there have been no further sightings or reports. Please continue to keep your eyes open for this loon

and please report any sightings (or, worst case scenario, discovery of its body) to LPC at (603) 476-5666. There is another loon in the northern part of the lake that appears to be unwell that I have been monitoring. It spends its time sheltering under overhanging trees along the shoreline or swimming close to shore, peering in the water looking for food, and behaving very lethargically. It doesn’t dive unless approached closely; but, when it does dive, it can still dive quite well–thus, we are not able to capture it yet. It is starting to molt around its chin, so it has a fair amount of white on its chin and lower face right now. If you see this loon, please send me an email so I can keep track of its location. If you see it pulled up on shore (or again, worst case scenario, find it deceased), please call LPC as soon as possible (603-476-5666). Thanks for everyone’s help!

As we wrap up the 2019 loon season, I want to give a big “Thank You!” to everyone for protecting and watching out for Squam’s loons this year, for helping educate people about loons and their needs, for spreading the word about the dangers of lead fishing tackle and how to fish in a way that is safe and responsible for loons and other wildlife, and for your reports to me and LPC about what you are seeing! I am so appreciative to everyone for your help and concern for Squam’s loons! And thank you to all who volunteered for Loon Chick Watch—thank you very much for volunteering your time to help protect Squam’s loon families and educate lake users about loons!

I also want to express my sincere thanks to LPC’s partners around the lakes for their work helping loons: to the Squam Lakes Conservation Society—this year, loons nested on land protected by SLCS at no fewer than6 (yes, 6!!!) sites! In addition, one of the successful pairs spent a lot of time brooding their chicks along shorelines protected by SLCS; to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center and Rockywold-Deephaven Camps (RDC) for everything they do to educate their guests about loons, and to SLNSC for the partnership with LPC for the Loon Cruises; to the Squam Lakes Association for helping to spread the word about loons on Squam and for partnering with LPC on the Loon Chick Watch program and handling the administration of the program; to SLA and Plymouth State University for their assistance in investigating the issue of contaminants on Squam Lake; and to Squam Boat Livery and RDC for their participation in LPC’s Lead Tackle Buyback program. As you can see, it takes the community to create a lake where loons can thrive, and I am so grateful to Squam’s residents, visitors, organizations, and businesses for all you do to make the Squam Lakes a safe, respectful, and welcoming place for loons. Thank you all for helping protect Squam’s loons!

As many of you know, the final newsletter of the season means it’s awards season on Squam! Please see the P.S. below to see who won the 2019 end-of-season Squam Loon Achievement Awards! Please continue to let me know if you have any reports, questions, or concerns about Squam’s loons, and please report any sick, injured, or dead loons to Loon Preservation Committee at (603) 476-5666. If anything happens to any of Squam’s loons during the fall, I will certainly be in touch to let you all know.

Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons, and have a very happy Fall and Winter! Tiffany

P.S. Sixth Annual Squam Loon Achievement Awards! It’s that time of year again, time to celebrate the accomplishments—both real and dubious!—of Squam’s loons over the past summer, so let’s hand out the sixth annual Squam Loon Achievement Awards! But, before we do, let’s pause to remember the loons we lost in the past year: the 2018 Moon Island female, who died after ingesting a lead fishing jig last fall and was recovered in Cape May, New Jersey; the 2019 Yard Islands female, who died in early July from avian malaria—only the second loon documented in North America to have died of avian malaria, a disease in loons that may be associated with a changing climate; and one of the two Little Squam loon chicks, who disappeared at 2 weeks of age, likely a predation incident. These are all sad losses to Squam’s loon population.

But now let’s celebrate Squam’s loons! The 2019 Squam Loon Achievement Awards go to… (drum roll, please!)

Productivity Award: Rattlesnake Cove pair! Without question, the most coveted award of the year has to go to the Rattlesnake Cove pair! Not only did they hatch two chicks, but they successfully pulled them through a very difficult and stressful summer. There were times when I was not sure the chicks would survive. Almost immediately after the chicks hatched, intruding loons descended on the cove, trying to take over the territory and threatening the survival of the family. These ongoing intrusions both threatened the survival of the chicks and pulled the parents away from caring for them, seemingly resulting in food stress for the chicks. As a result, the younger of the two chicks began to be excluded from the family (see below, “Pluckiest Loon Chick” Award). Despite all, the parents successfully defended their family and the chicks persevered, resulting in the first surviving chicks in this territory since 2010 and the first surviving twosome in Rattlesnake since 1976! This is truly something to celebrate, and I hope it will be the first of many successful years to come for this pair!

Pluckiest Loon Chick Award: Younger Rattlesnake Cove chick! This chick owes its survival to its plucky nature and determination to survive despite huge odds. Not only was it dealing with the danger presented by intruding loons to the family as a whole, but the younger chick began to be driven out of the family by the older chick at around 3.5 weeks of age. This sibling rivalry is normal for loons to ensure that at least one chick will have enough food to survive if there is a shortage of food—and there seemingly was, apparently because the parents were spending so much time fighting off intruders. Despite being apart from the family for two days (an attempt at re-unification was successful only in the short-term and resulted in the younger chick promptly getting beaten up again by its sibling), the younger chick held on and was forced at a very young age to catch food on its own. Usually loon chicks don’t begin catching their own food until they are 6 weeks old and they can’t completely feed themselves until 10 weeks old, but this chick was forced to begin catching its own food at 3.5 weeks. It’s noticeably smaller than its sibling, but it is alive, thriving, and I could not be happier or more relieved that it is doing so well! Beyond doubt, this chick deserves the Pluckiest Loon Chick Award!

Ten-Year Productivity Award: Little Squam pair! While the Rattlesnake pair walked away with 2019’s Productivity Award, let’s not forget to take the long view and celebrate the astonishing run that has been going on at Little Squam. Over the last 10 years, the loons on Little Squam have produced 9 surviving chicks! Keep up the great work, Little Squam loons!

Pair Together the Longest Award: Perch Island pair! Congratulations, and Happy 9th Anniversary (at least!) to the Perch Island pair! Not that this is nine successive years, but let’s not quibble about those years the male was with another female! This pair was first banded in 2007, so they may have been together for even longer before we could start following them. But after being together from at least 2007 to 2012, the female was evicted from the territory by another female. The male spent 2013-2016 with this other female, while his former mate bided her time as a single, pairing up one year in the Piper Cove territory but soon resuming the single life. When the new Perch Island female was killed in a boat collision late in 2016, the former Perch Island female saw her chance—and, within days of her rival’s death, she was making a bid for her old territory. They have been together ever since and fledged their first chick together this year since 2007, and I’m looking forward to celebrating their 10th anniversary next year!

Most In Need Of Marriage Counseling Award: Long Point “pair”! In contrast to the 9 years of “pair-ital” bliss for the Perch Island pair, we have the Long Point twosome, who just can’t seem to make paired life work. After hatching a chick together in 2011, they failed to nest the next several years—but at least they were together! In 2014, the male spent much of the summer sitting by the nesting area, apparently waiting for the female to turn up—which she finally did, only late in the summer and much too late for pairing, much less nesting. But the male was apparently willing to overlook this lapse, and they were together again the next 3 years and attempted to nest each year, albeit unsuccessfully. But last summer, their relationship hit the rocks again, with the female only showing up briefly and the male again left to drift around the territory, waiting for something to happen. This summer, things looked like they were off to a promising start—in spring, I was seeing the two together and was optimistic they would actually pair up…until they didn’t. The\ relationship fizzled again and the male, apparently fed up, started swimming around with another female—despite the continued presence of the original female in the area. We’ll see what next year brings, but I intend to study loon marriage counseling over the winter so at least I’ll be prepared if these two both show up again!

Incubation Stresses Me Out Award: Rattlesnake Cove Female! Yes, she was part of the pair that won the Productivity Award, but the road to such heights wasn’t easy—even before the chicks hatched and the loon intrusions started. The Rattlesnake female is unbanded, but it is clear that the same female has returned for several years, because each year the female of the pair has been a nervous wreck during incubation. This year was no different, and this continued for the first couple weeks after the chicks hatched. At one point, she was even ready to attack her mate after seeing him across the cove, apparently believing he was one of the intruding loons they had been battling! But, after those first couple weeks post-hatch, she seemed to settle in, and she remained calm and focused during the remainder of the summer spent raising her chicks. I guess raising older chicks agrees with her more than incubation and raising young chicks! I’ll look forward to seeing what next year brings: will she again be a nervous wreck during incubation, or will a year of successfully raising chicks have permanently calmed her down? Stay tuned to next year’s episodes of “As Squam Turns” to find out the answer to this, and all the other drama a summer of loons on Squam brings!

Congratulations (?!?) to the 2019 winners of the Squam Loon Achievement Awards, and I hope there will be many contenders for the Productivity Award next year!

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