The Uncommon Loon
by Missy Mandel, Kahshe Lake Loon Steward
With its black and white plumage, large profile and haunting calls the Common Loon is Canada's most iconic and beloved inhabitant of our lakes. Missy Mandel is the Kahshe Lake Loon Steward working with Birds Studies Canada to track Loon reproductive success by monitoring chick hatch and survival, and sharing knowledge of better boating, fishing and shoreline practices
RECOGNIZING DANGER SIGNS
When in danger, loons give a warning or distress call that sounds like a laugh. Listen for and heed this call, which means: "Please move away". If you see a loon "dancing" straight up out of the water, and slapping with its wings, it is Urgent that you move away. You are in their territory!
CRITICAL TIME: MAY - JULY NESTING SEASON
Most loons nest from mid to the end of May. Their nests are usually on small islands or the back end of bays and inlets. Loons lay only two eggs, which both parents take turns incubating for 28-29 days.
Loon parents leave if watercraft come within 150 yards of the nest (the length of 1 1∕2 football fields), leaving the eggs without warmth or protection. The nest then becomes vulnerable to predators. If disturbed often, loons abandon the nest. If you see 2 adult loons together in May or June, their nest site may have been disturbed.
KEEP A SAFE DISTANCE!
Nesting birds are easily disturbed by boat traffic, jet skis, and even non-powered boats. Because loons nest on the water’s edge, wakes from boats and jet skis can wash eggs out of nests. Canoes or kayaks can slip quietly into nesting areas and can startle loons off nests. Fishing boats spend lots of time in waters perfect for nest sites.
Loon chicks hatch in late June, which coincides with the start of the busy boating season. Loon awareness and responsible watercraft use will help reduce the conflicts that can occur between boaters and loons.
Watercraft traffic can cause loss of chicks: Young chicks are not waterproof! They need to be able to climb up on their parents' backs to stay warm and dry. When watercraft approach too closely, parents leave their chicks to defend their territory. Young chicks are buoyant, can’t dive quickly to get out of the way, and can be run over.
FISHING AND LOON SAFETY
Loons commonly eat small pebbles to grind food for digestion. Small lead sinkers and jigs may be
mistaken for these pebbles, or lures with fish and lead attached may be consumed by the bird directly. A bird that eats lead will become ill and die within two or three weeks. Just one lead sinker or jig can poison a water bird.
Consider purchasing non-lead alternatives. Sinkers, including split shot, are now available in less toxic compounds such as tin, steel, bismuth, and tungsten. Ask your local tackle shop or retailer to carry non-lead alternatives.
Watercraft operators are naturally drawn to our beautiful lake. Please help keep our Loons safe and reproducing on Kahshe Lake.
Photos by Missy Mandel
July 26, 2015
Loons - Our Endangered Neighbours
Cottage Life Magazine calls the loon “Our Grand Obsession.”
Indeed, what cottager has not thrilled to the familiar form of the first loon to return to the lake in early spring? Yet, Kahshe Lake is not as hospitable an environment for this magnificent bird as it once was. In spite of our professed devotion, we humans cause serious stress to our loon population in several ways.
Because of its anatomy, the loon is virtually helpless on land, so of necessity, they build their nests on the very edge of the water. Wake-boarding may be fun, but any speeding boat that creates a large wake can wash the eggs right out of these low-lying nests. This has forced loons into more shallow secluded areas, but jet-skis have easy access to even the most secure refuge. A thoughtless operator can cause further trauma by “exploring” the fringes of the lake.
Kahshe Lake has long been a fisherman’s delight but according to the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, about 27% of adult loons die of poisoning caused by ingesting lead sinkers and jigs discarded by fishermen who cut their lines free of a snag.
Another long standing problem for the loon is acid rain and the pollution caused by additives introduced to the lake by the use of insecticides and pesticides. Acid leaches mercury and other toxic metals out of the rocks and, as a top predator in the aquatic food chain, the loon is susceptible to toxic levels of mercury.
The loon is an extremely adaptable creature and has survived in spite of our invasive behaviours. However, who on Kahshe Lake has failed to notice the decline in the number of chicks seen on the lake in the past few years? Are we making it virtually impossible for loons to breed and nurture their young to maturity? If indeed we are obsessed by loons, let us be obsessed with their well-being so that we can enjoy their company for generations to come.