August 11, 2013

Bird counters crazy about their loons

Volunteers, an integral part of protecting Maine's loons, have driven the state's loon count for 30 years.

By Deirdre Fleming
Staff Writer

MONMOUTH - Jeri Kahl doesn't belong to any birding organizations. And Midge Burns doesn't consider herself a birder. But both women are loon experts on their respective big-loon lakes.

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Maine is home to more nesting loons than all other New England states, partly because we have more than 6,000 bodies of water. But Maine also has a dedicated group of volunteers who may not be experts, but have a deep appreciation for the iconic birds.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Jeri Kahl, who has lived on Lake Cobbosseecontee for 37 years, has been the director of the lake’s loon count for seven years. “There always have been a lot of loons all the time we’ve lived here,” she said.

Deirdre Fleming/Staff Writer

Additional Photos Below


Obey no-wake law within 200 feet of shore.\

Use lead-free tackle.

Dispose of fishing line so it does not get tangled 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 run-off.

If you see a loon on a nest, keep your distance.

– Source: Maine Audubon

Cobbosseecontee Lake, where Kahl lives, and Moose-head Lake, where Burns summers, are Maine's top two loon lakes, according to Maine Audubon.

On the 30th anniversary of the nonprofit's state loon count, both women had a lot to share about Maine's prehistoric-looking bird.

With a wingspan stretching five feet and bodies up to three feet long, common loons have mesmerized humans at least for the past few centuries, and figured prominently in Native American mythology, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

And Maine is home to more nesting loons than any other New England state, said Sally Stockwell, Maine Audubon's director of conservation.

Massachusetts only has 10 pairs; Vermont has around 100; and New Hampshire has no more than a few hundred, Stockwell said.

In contrast, last year's loon count in Maine came in at 2,997. Of course, there are more bodies of water in Maine, at least 6,000, according to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

And while loon chick numbers were down last year and Stockwell said they may also be down this year, she added it could be due to the rainy spring.

However, at Maine's two biggest loon lakes, the directors of the annual counts say loons are plentiful.

Kahl has been a loon counter, and the director of the Cobbosseecontee Lake loon count for seven years. A neighbor in her quilt class asked her if she wanted to help.

Kahl said the loons color the whole experience on the lake, where she has lived with her husband, Fred, for 37 years.

"There always have been a lot of loons all the time we've lived here. We've always tried to be respectful when they're nesting on that island. A fisherman in a boat went out there and was fishing close. And the loon there came out and was standing up and flapping its wings, as if to say, 'Go away, go away.' We told him to take note," Kahl said.

Kahl never thought of being a loon counter -- she's not a member of Maine Audubon. But without a doubt she is protective of her lake's loons.

"When my Uncle Ralph comes to visit, he sits on the dock early in the morning and just listens to them, when three to four of them talk to each other. I think they communicate," Kahl said.

She knows the loon's common call, the long sustained cry; its strange laugh-like cackle, and other noises not as famous.

"They definitely communicate. At night they're very vocal. I love to listen to them."

At 5,000 acres, Cobbosee "is a sizable Maine lake, but not nearly the size of 29,000-acre Sebago to the south. Still Cobbosee has more loons.

Neither has as many as Moosehead, Maine's largest lake at 75,000 acres. The 30-mile-long lake last year led all loon lakes in the Audubon count with 108.

Like Kahl, Burns is not an active birder, but the director of the Moosehead count. Burns follows the loons from the time they leave the lake in November, until she hears them migrating back in the spring, over Seneca Lake in upstate New York, where she spends the winter.

Then she gets ready to count them in the spring.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Observers say Maine’s loons, noted for their dramatic appearance and haunting cries, seem to be thriving.

Deirdre Fleming/Staff Writer


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