Photo by: Dave Peters
Annual Report Demonstrates an Active 2013 For thirty-five years, loon rangers have been recording data that reveals information about northern Wisconsin’s common loon population, phenology, and nesting success. It is not difficult to understand the dedication and fascination our citizen scientists have with the loons on their lake. The loon is a sentinel species indicating lake health, and is a charismatic bird that lake residents and visitors look forward to seeing. Last spring yielded an exceptionally late ice-out, limiting loons to rivers and patches of open water until mid-May. During “normal” years we expect to see iceout around mid-April, and the first nesting occurs during mid-May.
I heard numerous anecdotal accounts of re-distribution of loons—some lakes normally home to territorial pair(s) observed few or no loons, and other lakes observed territorial pairs not seen in many years. And then there was the unusual icing event in northeast Wisconsin, where many loons were found on wet parking lots or agricultural fields. A few rescued loons had fallen to the ground with ice on their feathers. Many rescued loons were either released or brought to wildlife rehabilitation facilities. Although this sounds gloom and doom, 2013 was comparable to other years in terms of hatching success and chick survival. Some 292 volunteers monitored 310 lakes last year. These volunteers monitored
a total of 378 territorial pairs, and reported 306 hatched chicks. This totals about 0.81 hatched chicks per territorial pair observed. This is onepercent higher than thirty-six year average of 0.80 chicks per territorial pair. Of the 306 hatched chicks, 228 were observed after eight weeks. This translates into an average seventy-five percent survival rate. By eight weeks, chicks have developed the ability to dive and feed themselves. If they make it this far, chances are good they will migrate in the fall. Many thanks to the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who make our monitoring programs a success! We look forward to hearing from you at the end of the 2014 monitoring season. SPRING 2014 1
high levels of chemical contaminants acquired on the lake in unviable or abandoned Squam loon eggs (at left). Contaminants included legacy pollutants that have been banned for decades (PCBs, DDT, chlordane, dioxins and furans) and new and emerging contaminants, such as PBDEs (flame retardants) and PFOS (stain guards). These contaminants were found at levels that were significantly higher than those in unhatched loon eggs from other lakes in New Hampshire and at levels that have been shown to affect the health and reproductive success of other birds. LPC’s investigation into the causes of the decline and the source of the contaminants is ongoing, and the STO helped us investigate two key questions related to the decline:
Map of Squam Lake between 2005-2007 showing territories in which loon pairs disappeared and contaminants levels in eggs collected during this period. pair disappeared, one or more pair members presumed deceased; high levels of contaminants; moderate levels of contaminants; low levels of contaminants; no contaminant data available.
Sigurd T. Olson Loon Research Award Helps Investigate Loon Population Decline in New Hampshire By Tiffany Grade, Loon Preservation Committee Squam Lake Project Biologist Many people know Squam Lake, New Hampshire, from the movie “On Golden Pond,” in which Katherine Hepburn exclaimed, “The loons are back!” Unfortunately, in 2005 many of Squam Lake’s loons did not come back, with only nine of the 2 TREMOLO
sixteen loon pairs returning from the previous year. In subsequent years, adult mortality has remained high and chick production plummeted, with only one chick surviving on the lake in both 2007 and 2013 (opposite page). With support from LoonWatch’s Sigurd T. Olson Loon Research Award (STO), the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC)—an organization that works throughout New Hampshire to preserve loons through research, monitoring, management, and outreach—is investigating these declines to restore a healthy population of loons to Squam Lake. LPC’s research has documented
1) Could the high levels of contaminants in Squam loon eggs have resulted from a change in the food web? To answer this question, LPC analyzed the levels of the isotope δ15nitrogen (N) in unhatched loon eggs. Different levels of a food web have different ratios of δ15N. A decline in fish at a lower level of the food web (e.g., small yellow perch) could force loons to feed at a higher level (e.g., medium-sized smallmouth bass), exposing them to higher levels of contamination. This change in diet would be reflected in the δ15N values of loon eggs.
Tiffany Grade, Loon Preservation Committee biologist
Loon Population Squam Lake Avg. 1995-2004
12 9 6 3 0
With funds from the STO, LPC submitted seventeen loon eggs for stable isotope analysis from various territories on Squam from 1996-2012. The results showed no difference in the levels of the food web at which Squam loons are feeding, either in different territories or over time. Since the data does not support this hypothesis to explain the high contaminant levels, LPC will focus its research on other hypotheses, such as a possible point source of contamination (e.g., leaching from a discrete source).
with levels in loon eggs. If these correlated, crayfish could serve as surrogates to supply information about contamination in territories lacking data from loon eggs. Funds from the STO helped LPC test contaminants in crayfish samples from various loon territories. This testing showed negative or weak correlations between crayfish and loon egg contaminant levels, likely due to the time it takes for contaminants to work through the food web and ultimately be deposited by a loon into an egg.
2) Do contaminant levels in crayfish correlate with contaminant levels in loon eggs from recent years? LPC lacks contaminant data for a number of loon territories where pairs disappeared or did not nest following the years of critical decline (2005-2007), so we investigated the possible correlation of contaminant levels in crayfish
Despite these findings, contaminant levels in crayfish supported the hypothesis of a possible point source in the northeastern sector of the lake. Crayfish tested particularly high for contaminants in two territories that loon occupancy and productivity data and the hydrologic patterns of the lake indicated may be a source
for the contaminants. LPC plans to test crayfish from tributaries that flow into these territories to see if the results support the possibility of a point source in this area of the watershed. Loons on Squam Lake and throughout their range face multiple threats that impair their survival and breeding success. LPC is working to understand the combination of stressors that caused the population decline on Squam Lake and continues to inhibit survival and productivity today. We are confident that the knowledge we gain from our research will both help to restore a healthy population of loons to Squam Lake and be applied to efforts to preserve loons throughout their range. LPC is very grateful to LoonWatch for the Sigurd T. Olson Loon Research Award that made this project possible and significantly advanced our research into the decline of loons on Squam Lake. SPRING 2014 3
Dr. Nina Schoch (left) of the Biodiversity Research Institute, Gorham, Maine is releasing a red-throated loon. Schoch is a wildlife veterinarian with Biodiversity Research Institute of Gorham, Maine. She coordinates BRI’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation in New York. She has a veterinary degree from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, a master’s degree in natural resources/wildlife management from Humboldt State University, and a bachelor’s degree in biology-behavioral ecology from Cornell University. Dr. Schoch practiced small animal medicine in New York’s Adirondack Park from 1991-2002, and is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. In her “spare time” she enjoys wildlife photography, paddling, cross-country skiing, quilting, and knitting.
LoonWatch. Supporting Loon Migration Research in the Adirondacks By Dr. Nina Schoch, Wildlife Veterinarian The Biodiversity Research Institute of Gorham, Maine was awarded the 2014 Sigurd T. Olson Loon Research Award. This support will be used to purchase two geolocators for deployment on adult Adirondack loons and to recapture nine loons who received geolocators in previous years to download their location data and determine their migratory routes and wintering areas. By applying geolocators to Adirondack loons, the Biodiversity Research Institute seeks to learn more about the loons annual life cycle and migratory pathways, in particular, to determine (1) if adult loons from different regions of the Adirondack Park have different migratory pathways and utilize different wintering locations; (2) the annual timing of migration for adult loons; and (3) if male and female members of a loon pair share the same migratory routes and winter in the same coastal locations. Such knowledge will greatly assist wildlife managers to better understand and address potential threats affecting common loons throughout their entire range.
Your support makes the work of LoonWatch and the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute possible. It provides information for the public, support for research, and valuable hands-on experience for Northland College students—the conservation professionals of the future. Please consider making a sustained gift to LoonWatch or the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute. Even a small monthly gift can make a big difference. For more information or to set up your sustained gift, go to northland.edu/ give or call (715) 682-1234.
Engaging Citizen Scientists to Help Loons By Anna Hipke-Krueger, Northland College student/LoonWatch Intern In 2011, I began monitoring regal fritillary butterflies. On the prairie for the first time, I hiked knee-deep through unfamiliar grasses and flowers while trying to spot and tally the regal’s distinctive wing pattern. Butterflies of all kinds flickered in and out of my sight, and as we walked and counted, my partner introduced me to other prairie plants and animals: wild indigo, pearl crescent, and catbird. Sweaty and tired by the end of the day, I knew I was hooked. I had become a citizen scientist. Now a Northland College sophomore and intern at LoonWatch, I have found that professionals and citizens both benefit from this unique relationship. Volunteer assistance in scientific research has been growing in popularity during the past decade. According to a 2010 article from researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of the first largescale recruitments of citizens in the collection of data was in Finland in 1749, when amateur bird-watchers were asked to collect annual migration times. In Wisconsin today, volunteers collect data on animals from worms to wolves, as well as on soil, water, and native plants. Scientists appreciate volunteer data collection because it enables them to acquire data from large areas over long periods of time, which can be used to track largescale phenomena like climate change and population health. The use of volunteers is also more economical for researchers with reduced budget and staff, and the
inclusion of citizen science projects can make grant proposals more competitive. While some worry about using data collected by nonprofessionals, volunteer training programs can greatly increase the quality of the data. Having volunteered myself, I can connect to the hundreds of stories from Loon Rangers narrating both the lives of the loons they monitor and their own experiences watching them. Monitoring allows volunteers to do what they love while collecting valuable data. I was interested in butterflies years before I started monitoring, and the similar passion of Loon Rangers is evident in the personal connections they form with the loons on their lakes. Loon Rangers have a common love for loons and relate to adult loons, who feed, teach, and defend their families much like humans do. While monitoring is fun, it also requires volunteers to follow strict protocols and keep accurate records, even when it seems like there is nothing “interesting” to record. Although it seems strange to report on things that aren’t there, recording “zero” butterflies or loons reveals the absence of the species in that area. Long term monitoring will reveal the history of the species in that region, which contributes to a broader understanding of the size and distribution of the population. Perhaps most importantly, monitoring gives volunteers the tools necessary to become strong advocates for natural spaces and wildlife. I have taught countless people about both regal fritillaries and loons—their lives, the threats
they face, and the ways we can help protect them. Many Loon Rangers educate others by posting warning signs for boaters and giving presentations to their local lake associations. Because volunteers visit their monitoring areas regularly, they are able to spot and report illegal or harmful activities, as well as changes in habitat quality. This type of citizen involvement is crucial to reducing the impact we have on our environment. For these reasons, citizen science is an important part of scientific research, public outreach, and the lives of volunteers. I’d like to extend a big thank you to all citizen scientists performing this important work. Sources: Denise Thornton, “Science for Everyone,” Grow: Wisconsin’s Magazine for the Life Sciences, Summer 2012, grow.cals.wisc.edu/ environment/science-for-everyone. Janis L. Dickinson, Benjamin Zuckerberg, and David N. Bonter, “Citizen Science as an Ecological Research Tool: Challenges and Benefits,” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 41, (August 11, 2010): 150, DOI: 10.1146/annurevecolsys-102209-144636. Miles O’Brien, “Citizen Science,” Science Nation, August 30, 2010, www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/ science_news/citizenscience.jsp. “Who’s Who of Citizen-based Monitoring in Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, accessed January 14, 2014, http:// wiatri.net/cbm/WhosWho/. SPRING 2014 5
Photo by: Peg Bavolek
Loon Ranger Reveals an Uncommon Experience By Erica LeMoine, LoonWatch Coordinator LoonWatch will convene researchers, experts, agencies, non-profits, and loon enthusiasts for its first North American Loon Symposium at Northland College. The nation’s premier wilderness researchers and biologists will present on topics ranging from mercury and lead toxicology, migration, behavior, loon banding, impacts of global warming, habitat management, wintering habitat, and citizen science. Join us! If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, contact Erica LeMoine at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-682-1220. Registration and details will soon be on our website.
While entering the Annual Lakes Monitoring Program data, occasionally I have to contact a Loon Ranger to clarify the data. Such was the case after reading a report that recorded one territorial pair and three chicks that survived to adulthood. Noting this was a first year Loon Ranger, I was a little skeptical and asked her about it. Low and behold, much to my surprise and delight, she not only filled out the monitoring form correctly, but took some great photos of the loon family. Knowing that this is a rare occurrence, I shared the photos with my colleague Dr. Michael Meyer, who said, “We have had two documentations of adult loons rearing three-chick broods—but in one case only two survived to fledge.” An incredible experience for a first year Loon Ranger!
Vigilant Loon Rangers Share their Stories “Loon calling and lake activity was extremely sparse this summer compared to others. I wonder if we have lost our resident loon. Most calling (“Where are you?”) was distant. … It was a very puzzling, lonely summer concerning loons.” Patti Joswick, Tomahawk Lake, Bayfield County “Observing loons is never straight forward, but is always interesting!” Tom and Linda Wheeler, Moon Lake, Gogebic County “May 3—was raining, and County Highway G was wet. A loon, thinking it was water, landed… Several people saw it and reported it to me. We caught the loon by throwing a coat over it. We took it to where the Montreal River leaves Pine Lake…which was open. We released the loon, and it immediately started diving and feeding.”
“Sick loon captured and taken to Wild Instincts in Rhinelander. [Diagnosed] with lead poisoning [and] died during attempt to remove large lead sinker—VERY SAD DAY. I believe that the loon that died was one of the territorial pair. The other loon has been wailing for three days.” Sue A. Kartman, Sailor Creek Flowage, Price County “The eagle swooped toward [the loons and chicks], but just before it reached the group the other adult shot up out of the water like a ballistic missile, attacking the eagle from behind and almost knocking it down to the water. The eagle suddenly changed its mission from attack to survival trying to gain enough air speed and altitude to avoid a water landing. That loon family was not bothered by eagles for weeks. I guess the word got out—don’t mess with attack loons!” Thomas Kacena, Minnie Lake, Vilas County
Steve Sash, Pine Lake, Iron County
Spread the word: Please do not feed loons Although those who are feeding loons believe they are helping these beautiful birds, the opposite is true. Inevitably these loons will associate humans with food, approach fisherman, swallow tackle, and get tangled in fishing line. Unless rescued, these loons will suffer a slow and painful death. Photo by: Brad Thompson. SPRING 2014 7
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