The past week has been a rollercoaster of a time for the loons of the Squam Lakes, filled with wonderful highs and terrible lows. Let’s start with the (very!) good news: We had an unbelievable 8 chicks hatch on the Squam Lakes since last Thursday!!! Little Squam started off the roll with 2 chicks hatching, followed closely by 6 chicks between 4 families on Squam Lake! And hopefully there are more to come — we still have 4 active nests on Squam. All the families are thriving, and I could not be more delighted with all these chicks and the continuation of the active nests!
Amidst all this happiness, there was a terrible incident Sunday when the banded female from the Perch Island territory was killed after being hit by a boat. She was picked up freshly dead in the boat lane north of Potato Island. We sent the loon to the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for necropsy and they confirmed she died of massive trauma from impact as well as injuries from a propeller. Many thanks to the people who reported the dead loon– it is so important for Loon Preservation Committee to be able to document these causes of mortality.
With the chicks out and about and given what happened on Sunday, please help spread the word to your friends, neighbors, and other lake users to be careful when boating and to look out for loons. Here are a few safe boating tips to pass along:
1) 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 because loon chicks are small, dark, hard to see on the water, and may be alone on the surface if both parents are diving for food.
2) 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, as was sadly demonstrated last Sunday.
3) 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.
4) 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.
Thank you very much for helping to spread the word about safe boating practices and helping to keep loons safe!
Please see the P.S. below for “Meet the Loons of Squam.” This week, we will have a remembrance of the Perch Island female who was killed and celebrate her years on Squam Lake.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any reports, questions, or concerns, and please report any sick, injured, or dead loons to Loon Preservation Committee (603-476-5666).
Have a safe and happy holiday weekend, and thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons!
P.S. “Meet the loons of Squam”— a remembrance of the Perch Island female: Some of you may remember that the Perch Island pair won my “Pair Together the Longest” award in the end-of-season loon awards last year for their 9 years together. Not that those were 9 consecutive years of domestic bliss, but let’s just view those intervening years as a bit of an adventure and look back at the life of the scrappy and determined Perch Island female.
Both she and her mate were banded in 2007 when they were the parents of the only surviving chick on Squam– certainly a bright spot during a difficult year for Squam’s loons. But things became more difficult for this particular pair in the following years: they hatched a chick each year in 2008 and 2009 but neither survived, and nest failures in 2010-2011 continued the downward spiral of their nesting success. But, through it all, they remained a solid pair: early to arrive and pair up on the lake each spring, they were always a welcome sight at the start of each year and they seemed to have a go-getter attitude towards nesting, despite the difficulties they were running into.
But apparently, below the surface, there was trouble in the pair bond: after the nest failures of 2010-2011, the pair did not nest in 2012, despite continuing to check out their nesting spots. And then, in 2013, there was a new female in the territory, and I did not see the now ex-Perch Island female until August that year. After her absence earlier in the summer, she made up for it in the fall! She spent that autumn, well into November, picking multiple fights with the Little Squam female. I was a bit concerned as there was a chick at Little Squam, but the Little Squam female was not about to lose her place there! It was an unusual time of the year to be fighting so vigorously; but the ex-Perch Island female had her eye on the future, hoping to go into the following year with a winning hand at Little Squam. It was not to be; but, given the extraordinary productivity of Little Squam that we looked at in my last newsletter, you can hardly fault the ex-Perch Island female for trying and she did put up a good fight. Plus, it does take some bravado to take on the Little Squam female!
Having seen the broader world of the Squam Lakes in 2013 and been at the losing end of the battles, the ex-Perch Island female had little choice but to go back closer to home in 2014. Returning to Squam Lake, she took up her position as the territorial female in Piper Cove, but this didn’t last either. By 2015, she was leading the single life on the fringes of her old territory at Perch Island. However, this scrappy and determined loon was not cut out for life as a single. Returning to her fighting ways, she took 2016 by storm, spending 3 weeks straight in early summer battling with the Piper Cove female for a spot back in that territory. Just like her concerted efforts at Little Squam a few years back, it ended in failure.
Just when it seemed that this determined loon would not be able to gain a territory, an opportunity presented itself-and she took full advantage. In August of 2016, the female who was in the Perch Island territory at the time was killed in a boat collision. Within days of this event, the old Perch Island female was back swimming around with her former mate, the two of them acting as if they had never been apart! I knew the best opportunity to quickly stabilize the territory and have a return to nesting would be for her to once again be the territorial female. She knew the territory, knew the male– it would be a smooth return to the old days. And so I spent the winter wondering: would she once again be the territorial female in Perch Island in 2017?
That spring, I was eagerly and anxiously watching…and you can only imagine how pleased I was when I saw that, yep, there she was— once again serenely ruling Perch Island. They quickly got down to the business of nesting; but, over the next two years, black flies, intruding loons, and predators caused their nests to fail. However, last summer finally brought success, when she and her old mate successfully raised their first chick together since 2007! It seemed to be the start of renewed hope and renewed success for Perch Island, and I could not have been more pleased when I saw them together again this year. A nest was soon started — and it is actually still going, leaving me with some questions: is the male-an old hand at nesting— just not wanting to give up on the nest? Or was the Perch Island female actually evicted right before nesting by another female? I suspect it’s the former, but we will wait and see.
In the meantime, we are faced with the loss of the long-time Perch female. It is ironic that she met the same sad fate as her predecessor in the territory, the female killed by a boat in 2016 whose death this loon was able to capitalize on to move back into her old territory. For now, let’s celebrate the life of a loon who was a steady presence at Perch Island for 10 years-with a bit of an adventure in the wider world that brought out her scrappy side in the middle!