It’s hard to believe Labor Day has come and gone, but here we are at the end of another loon breeding season —- and what a season it has been! I am delighted to report that all 8 chicks on Squam Lake and both chicks on Little Squam are still doing well! All but the youngest chick are in the “teenage” loon stage, and the youngster is almost 6 weeks old now and growing fast!
With these remarkable chick numbers on Squam Lake, 2020 is Squam’s best year for loon breeding success since 2003! The 11 chicks hatched this year on Squam Lake are the most since 2003, as are the current number of chicks surviving. All of the surviving chicks on Squam Lake this year —- and all of the chicks that hatched except for one —- hatched off of nesting rafts floated by Loon Preservation Committee. I hope the chicks —- and all the loons —- will continue to thrive as they prepare for migration, or just plain grow up in the case of the youngest chick! But no need to worry about migration for the youngest chick —- it has plenty of time to grow and learn how to fly before it needs to leave.
Many thanks to all of you for helping to protect the loons of the Squam Lakes this summer, for looking out for them, and for helping spread the word to others to be respectful of the loons! I really appreciate everyone’s help! This will be my last e-newsletter of the season, but I will continue to be out on the lake through the fall keeping an eye things and will let you know if anything happens to any of the loons. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns, or reports. And please report any sick, injured, or dead loons to Loon Preservation Committee. The Loon Center is currently closed, so please report any loons in distress on our website at https://loon.org/report-loon/ or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. And our online store is still open for all your loon-themed shopping needs! Please visit: https://loon.org/shop/.
The last email of the season means it’s once again awards season on Squam! Please see the P.S. below for the Seventh Annual Squam Loon Achievement Awards and find out who walked away (swam away???) with the coveted Productivity Award this year!
Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons! I wish everyone a happy, safe, and healthy Autumn!
P.S. Seventh Annual Squam Loon Achievement Awards: It’s awards season, time to celebrate everything the loons on the Squam Lakes have accomplished this year!
First, let’s pause to remember the loons we have lost in the past year: the unbanded adult loon found dead at Long Island last October who died of lead poisoning from ingested lead fishing tackle; the Perch Island female, killed at the end of June by a boat strike; and the three chicks on Squam Lake who died this summer, one of whom disappeared at just over 2 weeks of age, another died during hatching, and the third disappeared just after hatching. These are all very sad losses to Squam’s loon population.
But now, let’s celebrate the achievements of Squam’s loons in 2020!
Productivity Award: For the coveted 2020 Productivity Award…we have a tie! Considering how many deserving loon pairs we had this year, it seems only right to spread the award around. Our winners this year are the Heron Cove pair and the Mooney Point pair! The Heron Cove loons were the only pair to fledge two chicks on Squam Lake this year —- congratulations! (Don’t worry, Little Squam pair, your award is coming below!) And the Mooney Point pair shares the award for finally, after many years of nest failures, plucking up the courage to try a new nest site and successfully raise a chick! The current male was part of the pair that last had a chick in Mooney Point in 2014. Clearly buoyed by his success, he stuck doggedly to that nest site despite succeeding years of nests being lost to predation, black flies, and intruding loons. Each year I would hope that the pair would try a different location, each year my hopes would be dashed as they once again settled on their old spot…until this year! I was thrilled when they selected a new, safer location, and they have a beautiful chick as the ultimate reward for making the switch! So, for the Mooney Point pair’s great decision-making skills that resulted in a chick and the Heron Cove pair’s two-chick brood, these are the 2020 co-winners of the Productivity Award!
Ten-Year Productivity Award: Taking the long view —- hands down, it’s Little Squam once again! With their two chicks this year, the Little Squam loons have produced nine chicks in the last 10 years!! Keep up the great work, Little Squam loons!!
Pair Together the Longest Award: I’m awarding this as a two-part award this year, the first half of the season and the last half of the season. For the first half of the season, this award belongs to the Perch Island pair, together for 10 years. Sadly, their 10th anniversary season was cut tragically short when the female was killed, but let’s celebrate once more their 10 years together at Perch Island.
The Pair Together the Longest Award for the second half of the season goes to, ironically, the Long Point pair —- last year’s winners of the “Most in Need of Marriage Counseling” Award! I like to think that the fact that they actually DID pair up this year indicates they took my advice and got some professional help over the winter. As you may remember, this is Squam’s on-again/off-again pair. Including this year, they have been a pair for a total of 7 years, but these 7 years have been interspersed with years when both of them were present in the territory but they never actually paired up. After a promising start together in 2019, the relationship again hit the rocks; and, after seemingly being unceremoniously ignored by the female, the male had little choice but to spend the latter half of the summer hanging out with other females. I was left wondering if this was the end of the road for this twosome, so I was pleasantly surprised to see them both together this summer —- and vaguely shocked when they settled down on a nest. The nest of was on the verge of hatching when, sadly, it failed, possibly due to the presence of intruding loons. What this setback will mean for their fragile relationship remains to be seen —- maybe another winter of marriage counseling is in order? In any case, I am both pleased and amused to award Squam’s own on-again/off-again pair with the “Pair Together the Longest Award —- Second Half of the Season”!
Father of the Year Award: Even without chicks, this award definitely belongs to the Perch Island male. As many of you will remember, after his mate was killed while the pair was actively nesting, the male tried incredibly hard to continue incubating the eggs. As far as I could tell, he was on the nest almost constantly for a week after she died. Loons are not cut out to be single parents —- they need their mate to chip in so they have time during incubation to feed, preen, and take care of themselves. Obviously, that was no longer possible, but he gave it an absolutely heroic effort to stick to those eggs. He was finally forced to abandon them; and, as I collected the eggs for LPC’s research the day after the expected hatch date, I was thinking about what could have been but also filled with admiration and respect for the male and his valiant efforts to hatch those eggs.
Mother of the Year Award: This goes to all the female loons of the Squam Lakes who had chicks this year! It was a remarkable year for productivity on Squam —- for all the hard work all those loons put in to make it happen, they all deserve the award!
She’s Just Not That Into You Award: The poor Squaw Cove male was trying so hard. Sitting in front of a potential nest spot, he was patiently waiting as his mate slowly made her way down the cove, preening, bathing, and generally appearing rather self-absorbed and oblivious to the presence of her mate eagerly waiting for her. As she (finally!) got closer, the male began cooing, trying to entice her to come and check out his perfect nest site. But she just kept going past, preening away, seemingly studiously ignoring him and all his efforts. The male continued cooing determinedly, convinced this must win her over. Finally, even he couldn’t ignore her indifference and he gave up at last, swimming after her, clearly determined to keep trying. They never did nest. For all his hopeful cooing, for all his efforts to win her heart, and for all her determination to ignore him, the Squaw Cove male wins the “She’s Just Not That Into You” Award. Well, Squaw Cove male, there’s always next year…
Messiest Break-Up Award: It was an epic loon chase by any standards, as the two loons wing-rowed deep into Owl’s Head, back out again, and then went clear across the entrance to Sturtevant Bay, swerving and dodging as they raced across the water. I watched the chase for at least ten minutes and was told by other boaters in the area that it had been going on for quite a while before I happened upon them. But aside from the impressive speed, maneuvering, and stamina of the loons and the tenacity and fierce determination of the loon doing the chasing, what was truly remarkable about this fight was who it involved: two loons who had been blissfully paired up just last year, the 2020 Kimball male and his ex from 2018-2019! There was a new female in Kimball this year, who was peacefully sitting on her and her mate’s nest while he was busily chasing his ex all over the place. The former Kimball female was a single this year, and I can only speculate on how this fight began —- loon fights are typically between same-sex birds, so to see a male and a female going at it was very surprising, complete with the added twist of this being a former pair. All I can say is, they were engaged in this chase with all the enthusiasm, hostility, and stubbornness that can only result from a very, very bad break-up! With that, I bestow the Messiest Break-Up Award on the Kimball male and his ex from 2018-2019, congratulations!
Congratulations (??!?) to all the winners of the Squam Loon Achievement Awards 2020! It was wonderful having so many pairs to choose from for the Productivity Award —- I hope I will have so many options in 2021 too, or more! Have a wonderful Autumn, everyone!
Just a quick note to let you know that the 8 chicks on Squam Lake and 2 chicks on Little Squam are continuing to do well! As the chicks get older, the families are moving around quite a bit–please remind your friends, neighbors, and other lake users to boat carefully and keep an eye open for the loon families. Thank you!
In case you missed it last week, LPC Executive Director Harry Vogel’s end-of-season presentation is available on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/LoonCenter. Find out what the 2020 season was like for New Hampshire’s loons!
Don’t forget to clean the lead out the old tackle boxes in the garage or boathouse, and spread the word to your friends and neighbors to do the same! Since 1989, lead fishing tackle ingestion has been responsible for 44% of the documented mortalities of adult loons in New Hampshire. Please help protect loons and other wildlife by having only non-lead tackle in your boxes. As part of LPC’s Lead Tackle Buyback Program, you can turn in old lead tackle in return for a $10 voucher at Squam Boat Livery. For more information or to see a list of other participating tackle shops around the state, please visit www.loonsafe.org.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions, reports, or concerns about Squam’s loons, and please report any sick, injured, or dead loons to Loon Preservation Committee at (603) 476-5666.
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.