Data from the 26th annual Maine Audubon Loon Count indicate, while the population of adult loons held relatively steady in 2009, the number of loon chicks was substantially lower than in 2008 — probably due to extremely wet weather.

After analyzing the observations of hundreds of loon-counting volunteers, Maine Audubon biologist Susan Gallo estimated this past summer there were 2,753 adult loons and 175 chicks in the southern half of the state — the region where count data is most robust.

The estimates are based on observations made by more than 900 volunteer counters on 311 lakes and ponds across Maine over the course of a single Saturday in July.

The estimated number of adult loons is roughly the same as was estimated from last year’s loon count. But the number of chicks in 2009 was the sixth-lowest in the count’s 26-year history.

Too much rain can be a big problem for loons, and, in June and July 2009, the weather station in Gray recorded almost 20 inches falling on 38 different days.

“When lake levels rise after big rain events, nests are flooded and eggs literally float away,” said Gallo, who coordinates the loon count and annually analyzes the results.

Maine Audubon is also analyzing loon count data to consider the long-term effects of climate change.

“Loons are connected to northern climates, and Maine is at the southern edge of loons’ range,” said Gallo. “Over time, data from the loon count has the potential to track changes in the Maine population that may end up being climate-related.”

Still, chicks fared better this year than in 2006, a wet summer during which the number of chicks was the second-lowest recorded.

It’s also possible Maine gained more chicks after the 2009 count in July.

“Loons do re-nest if their first attempt fails,” said Gallo, “so it’s likely there were also additional nests later in the summer, when weather was drier.”

In spite of heavy rains statewide on the day of the count, 917 participants braved the weather to contribute one more year’s worth of scientific observations. The high rate of participation generates more reliable scientific data, and makes the Maine Audubon Loon Count the biggest wildlife-monitoring project of its kind in New England.

The loon count is the centerpiece of Maine Audubon’s Maine Loon Project. Through the project, Maine Audubon actively engages people in conservation, educates the public about loon biology, and collects the scientific data needed to advocate for legislation that benefits loons and the lakes in which they live.

“The loon count gives hundreds of Mainers and summer visitors a meaningful way to engage with wildlife on our lakes,” said Maine Audubon Executive Director Ted Koffman.

“Because they are making this connection, volunteers are more likely to take other steps to protect Maine’s environment, whether by calling a legislator about conservation policy or by switching to less-polluting lawn-care products.” 

Maine Audubon’s programs and trips, two year-round visitor centers, and eight wildlife sanctuaries open to the public offer young children through senior citizens wide-ranging opportunities to explore, learn about and care for Maine’s wildlife throughout the year.

Year-round Programs:

Falmouth: Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, Maine Audubon headquarters

Holden: Fields Pond Audubon Center

Summer-Fall Programs:

Elliotsville: Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary

Freeport: Mast Landing Audubon Sanctuary

Rockland: Project Puffin Visitor Center

Scarborough: Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center

Open to the Public; Group Programs by Arrangement:

Biddeford Pool: East Point Audubon Sanctuary

Georgetown: Josephine Newman Audubon Sanctuary

West Bath: Hamilton Audubon Sanctuary

To find out more, visit maineaudubon.org.