July 1, 2013

Maine team now tracks loons near and distant

Staffers from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Gorham study the birds in habitats as far away as Alaska and Mexico.

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

A loon rests on a platform that can solve a key problem for the birds: changing water levels that swamp or beach their nests.

Photo by Jonathan Fiely

HELP PROTECT LOONS

Obey no-wake laws within 200 feet of shore.

Use lead-free fishing tackle. Good alternatives are made of steel, tin and bismuth.

Do not throw broken fishing line in the water. Dispose of it so that it cannot get tangled up in a loon’s feet or bill.

If you live on a lake, use phosphorus-free fertilizer and plant shrubs as a buffer along the shoreline to reduce runoff. Fertilizers and pesticides contain chemicals that can harm loon populations.

If you see a loon on a nest, keep your distance. Get a close-up view through binoculars.

Dispose of garbage so it does not attract loon-egg predators such as skunks and raccoons.

"Lead's toxic to wildlife and humans," Paruk said, adding that the new law is not so much a victory as an important step forward in eliminating toxins and embracing a conservation ethic for the state.

But neither lead nor mercury is the only problem for loons on Maine lakes, Paruk said. Studies of Rangeley Lake loons have continued for nearly 20 years and have verified that fluctuating water levels are the biggest threat to loon reproduction there.

In some cases, the water level in Rangeley has shown a 12- to 14-inch variation within two weeks in summer, and nests can be either flooded out or left high and dry. The development of loon platforms that can ride out the changes and keep the nests intact have led to greater breeding success, Paruk said.

What lies ahead are continued monitoring of the toxic pollutants and tracking emerging threats to loons from unfolding issues resulting from human-induced climate change.

These issues are just the sorts of challenges Coehlo hears in the mournful tone of the loon's call. "It's total, total grief for its natural habitat being sliced and diced and completely destroyed," she said.

"Maybe (it's) even a call to wake people up to what we're doing to the world."

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@pressherald.com

 

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