We have a Chick! Meet the loons from Moultonborough Bay

Great news, Squam Lake has its first chick of the year! The chick hatched on Wednesday and the parents are very busily taking care of it, trying to convince the sometimes reluctant chick to eat all the minnows they bring! Unfortunately, the family seems to be struggling to find a quiet spot away from boating activity to brood the chick. More nests are expected to hatch this coming week, so it is very important to remind neighbors and lake users to keep an eye out for chicks, boat slowly and carefully, and give the loons plenty of space. Thanks for your help with this, and please consider volunteering for Loon Chick Watch to help protect the loon families! (https://www.squamlakes.org/loon-chick-watcher-program)

In another piece of good news, two more pairs went on the nest this past week! But life for loons on Squam is, sadly, always a rollercoaster. One of those pairs already abandoned their nest for reasons that are not entirely clear. And another pair lost their nest in a truly appalling set of circumstances. One of the signs protecting the nest was tampered with, causing the protective ropes/signs to drift in close to the nest. People were seen close to the nest at the time this occurred. Not surprisingly, the incubating loon flushed off the nest, and the eggs were subsequently eaten by an avian predator. It is very upsetting, sad, and disturbing that this happened. Given the challenges Squam’s loons are facing, it is appalling that a nest would be lost in this way. Let’s all work together to help create a culture of respect for loons on Squam.

The current tally for the Squam Lakes are 1 nesting pair on Little Squam, 1 chick on Squam, and 3 active nests on Squam. As of last night, an additional nest on Squam appears to be in jeopardy. I will be checking on its status today and let you know in my next report whether it made it or not. The spate of recent nest failures has certainly changed the prospects for the potential number of chicks on Squam this year, but I am hoping the remaining nests will hatch successfully and that some of the pairs that failed will re-nest.

As we head into a busy week on Squam, please also remind your neighbors and other lake users about the dangers of lead fishing tackle to loons, and don’t forget to clean out the old tackle boxes in your garage or boat house! Sadly, in the past week, the Loon Preservation Committee picked up two loons from lakes elsewhere in the state that died from lead tackle ingestion. Please dispose of old lead tackle safely-The Loon Center, Squam Lakes Association, and all New Hampshire Fish & Game offices are collection points for safe lead tackle disposal. Let’s make our lakes safe for loons and other wildlife and get the lead out!

Please see the P.S. below for this week’s edition of “Meet the Loons of Squam,” and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or reports. As always, please call Loon Preservation Committee to report any sick, injured, or dead loons (603-476-5666). Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons, and have a safe, happy, and loon-safe 4th of July!


P.S. “Meet the Loons of Squam”-Moultonborough Bay: This week we’ll pay a visit to Moultonborough Bay (M’boro), a territory that historically had fairly reliable chick production but has struggled in recent years with an influx of loon intrusions-and high contaminant levels in loon eggs. In many ways, M’boro has been the poster territory in recent years for some of the key problems facing Squam’s loons in recent years. But let’s back up and see what the loons have been up to.

The current pair in M’boro is an unbanded male and a female who was banded in the territory in 2012, the year she had the only chick she has produced in the territory. At that time, she was paired with the Grand Old Male of Moultonborough Bay. He had been banded in M’boro as an adult in 1999, moved up to the Yard Islands in 2002-2004, but returned to M’boro in 2005 and spent his remaining years there. He was a calm and serene presence in the Bay, and it was very sad when he did not return in 2015. He hasn’t been seen since, and I presume he is dead after a long and productive life. From the time he was banded, he produced 7 chicks in M’boro and Yards, which is just about right on average for a loon in New Hampshire. Since that time, the male in M’boro has been unbanded, so we do not know his history.

Since the female arrived and produced a chick in 2012, her fortunes have taken a downward turn. In 2013, her eggs were inviable; and, in 2014, the nest was just days away from the expected hatch date when the female evicted from Sturtevant Cove in 2010 and the female evicted from the Yard Islands in 2013 teamed up to drive the M’boro female from the territory. This is the only time I have ever seen same-sex loons team up to chase a rival from her territory! Needless to say, only one female loon could have the territory, so the ex-Sturtevant and ex-Yards female then turned on each other once the M’boro female was gone. The ex-Yards female won the battle handily. In an interesting twist, the ex-Yards female had been paired with the Grand Old Male of Moultonborough Bay from 1999-2007, so it looked like the old pair was going to be back together again. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The male did not return in 2015; and, while the ex-Yards female won the battle, she lost the war. The ex-Sturtevant female was the territorial female in M’boro in 2015.

But that didn’t last for the ex-Sturtevant female either. The M’boro female was back on territory in 2016 and 2017, after spending the summer of 2015 as an unpaired loon. Just as in 2014, her nest attempts in those years ended after intrusions from other loons. To make matters worse, LPC tested one of her eggs from both 2013 and 2016. These eggs showed high levels of contaminants, particularly for PCB’s. While obviously LPC has only tested eggs from a relatively small number of loons in the state, we still have tested nearly 80 eggs statewide; and, based on these tested eggs, the M’boro female is carrying the heaviest contaminant body burden of any loon in the state.

So in many ways, M’boro typifies the problems Squam has been facing. Many nest failures in the territory have resulted from the “social chaos” that has overtaken the Squam’s loons, apparently as a result of high rates of adult mortality, resulting in frequent loon intrusions. Unhatched eggs from the territory have tested for high levels of contaminants. And lead poisoned loons have died in the territory in 2007 and 2017-this is not to say they acquired the lead tackle in the territory, but it adds to the picture of the challenges facing Squam’s loons being encapsulated by what has happened in the territory in recent years. Obviously, Loon Preservation Committee is working hard to help Squam’s loons overcome these challenges, and we are working for the best for the M’boro pair-and all of Squam’s loons!

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