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Volunteers gather on Lake St. George for yearly Loon Count

By Kendra Caruso | Jul 25, 2019
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Martha Piscuskas rows her canoe on Lake St. George, searching for loons while participating in the Annual Loon Count on July 20.

Liberty — Martha Piscuskas and her partner Elise Brown own two properties on Lake St. George in Liberty where they help monitor lake health by participating in public events like Maine Audubon's annual Loon Count.

For one morning every July, over 1,000 volunteers comb designated sections of lakes in the southern half of Maine, counting loon sightings from 7 to 7:30 a.m. The sightings only count if the loons are spotted in the designated time frame and are in the participant’s quadrant.

Loons are what’s called an indicator species, which tells scientists and conservationists whether something is changing ecologically in an area if loon health or population is steeply increasing or declining.

Piscuskas and Brown decided to become loon counters because they wanted to be active in maintaining the health of the lake they live and play on. They didn’t see any loons in their designated quadrants but enjoy being out on the water and the opportunity to explore new parts of the lake that they might not have experienced before.

“It’s like a treasure hunt, looking for loons …. I love being on the lake and seeing all the boats scattered on the lake looking for loons, too,” Brown said.

Toni and Jesse Clark observed 10 loons on their southeastern section of Lake St. George. The Clarks spotted a group, known as a raft, of six loons.

The Clarks have been loon counters for over 10 years. They are beginning to see fewer loon chicks every year and think it could be attributed to a higher population of eagles, which are predators of loon chicks.

“If you do the statistics and keep a record, you’ll know if it’s a good healthy lake,” Toni Clark said.

The number of observed loon chicks on Lake St. George has fluctuated between zero and four during the last 10 years. Despite the low number of observed loon chicks, the number of mature loon sightings has remained steady, with only a couple of years of decreased observations, according to the Maine Audubon website.

There are five different types of loons worldwide. Maine has the largest, and the only, loons who winter on the ocean and summer on lakes in the same state, according to Maine Audubon Wildlife Ecologist Tracey Hart.

Hart says scientists believe Maine loons will stop spending summers in Maine by 2080 if climate change continues to create more extreme weather events, warm waters and increased algae blooms. The birds will move farther north to seek cooler and clearer waters, she said.

Loon eggs are sensitive to heat and as Maine summers continue to warm, it puts the eggs at risk. Loons usually have only a couple of chicks at a time, so there is a small window for error in one breeding season.

Results from recent loon counts still indicate a thriving loon population and Hart believes that is due to increased legislative protections, education and vigilant volunteers dedicated to protecting the species.

“Our population of loons has been doing well and steady,” Hart said. “But loons are facing a lot of threats and people need to take action on keeping them safe.”

Results from this year's statewide loon count will be released in the fall.

 

Maine Audubon Wildlife Ecologist Tracey Hart talks to the public June 27 at Lake St. George Brewing Co. in Liberty about loons and how they can participate in the Annual Loon Count. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
A loon is spotted on Lake St. George after the annual Loon Count July 20. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
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