Watchic Lake is fortunate to have one or two loon families on the lake each year (specifically “Common Loons”). After spending the winter on the Maine coast, they usually arrive the day after ice out and generally nest on one of the islands or in the swamp. Each year they parade their chicks for us to enjoy.
The common loon, Gavia Immer, is found throughout Maine except along the coast and in extreme southwestern Maine. The common loon displays distinctive plumage with black head and neck and white necklace; the eyes are red. The approximate size of a goose, the loon is long-bodied with a thin, short neck and black dagger like beak. In fall, adult loons become gray with white underparts while their eyes change to brown.
Loons are skillful swimmers and divers and can stay underwater for long periods of time. Loons are strong fliers although often needing hundreds of feet of take off and landing space. Loon landings have often been described as “controlled crashes.” Because they are so vulnerable on land, loons build their nests on the water’s edge usually leaving them unconcealed. Loons prefer quiet lakes or estuary’s on which to live and enjoy a diet of fish, frogs, leeches, and shellfish. It is believed that loons mate for life.
Loons are perhaps most noted for their distinctly haunting calls; four main types of loon calls exist. Wails keep loons in contact with each other; only males produce yodels when defending territory. Tremolos are used when loons feel threatened or are defending their chicks; hoots are intimate calls between a pair or a parent and chicks. [Source Maine.gov]
Too listen to the loon calls, try this video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Loons are one of the things that make Watchic Lake so enjoyable. If loons do not find a lake habitable, they will not return. Help keep the loons coming back:
- Loons dive deep and for minutes at time in search for food. They can pop up anywhere at any time. PLEASE keep an eye out for them and respect their space when boating.
- Use lead-free tackle. Good alternatives are made of steel, tin and bismuth.
- Dispose of fishing line so it does not get tangled up in a loon’s feet or bill.
- Help maintain water quality to keep fish in the lake – use only phosphorus-free fertilizer and maintain your shoreline buffer-zone to reduce run-off.
- If you see a loon on a nest, keep your distance and watch with binoculars.
- Keep garbage out of reach of loon egg predators like skunks and raccoons.
More loon information and how to become a volunteer loon counter can be found at Maine Audubon Society – The Loon Project.
And for information you can provide visitors and very cool loon calendar, check out this loon poster from Maine Audubon.
Have you seen loons and their chicks? Contact Us to learn how best submit your pictures and sightings.
Loon Update Fall 2016
Another wonderful report from Kim and Steve Lajoie on our loons…
Unbeknownst to us when we bought our camp in December 2011, we had bought a house directly across from the loon nesting site on Middle Island. This meant that in early June when the chicks are born and mom and dad start exercising their babies in preparation for the November flight, they bring them to the quiet cove between our house and the Kiwanis Beach. This has given us the miraculous experience of seeing the babies grow and watching the amazing parenting of two adult loons. Every year we watch, bond, celebrate milestones (first dive!), and grieve when we lose one or like in 2105, lose the only one born on the lake. We are so happy to say that this year 3 babies were born on the lake and at this writing all three are thriving and preparing for their first flight.
We think it’s worth noting that while the summer lake activities are winding down there is an abundance of miracles still taking place. Just today we saw six (!) migrating eagles fly over the lake! On a recent kayak outing an adult loon and two babies sought us out and played around us for over 20 minutes. We’ve been “talking” to the loons since they were babies and they seemed to know our voices based on the comfort they had swimming around the kayak, the comfort of mom with the babies right up against us, swimming under the boat and clearly interacting with us. Again, a miracle in motion. The photos below were taken on that day.
They are so precious and we are so lucky to have these amazing beings in our front yards.
In the Spring, we will continue to welcome back both Biodiversity Research and Maine Audubon researching, tracking and educating us once again. In the meantime, please always keep an eye out for our loons. Remember that lead sinkers and boat collisions are the two leading causes of loon death. Remember as well that keeping our water quality clean and in A+ LakeSmart condition keeps our loons returning and thriving, our house values high and our swimming quality magnificent.
Loon Update Summer 2016 for The Loon Project, Maine Audubon
Thanks to the efforts of Kim and Steve Lajoie, plus Cathy Watson and Wendi Rodrigueza, Watchic Lake participated in its first Annual Loon Count on July 16th. The annual Loon Count is sponsored by the Loon Project at Maine Audubon, where volunteers count and track changes in loon families, and then report them to Maine Audubon.
This summer three chicks and five adults were counted and recorded with the state as of July 16th. One pair of chicks is at the northwest end of the lake, the single chick is at the southeast end, and all seem to be doing well so far this summer. They are getting much bigger and have started diving for longer periods. Their backs are still brown but you can see the white really coming out on their chests and undersides. The parents of the northwest pair seem to leave the chicks alone quite often while there is almost always a parent with the single southeast chick. There has been a visiting group of five young loons that we have seen on and off for the last few weeks. They do not seem to bother or be bothered by the parent loons which the team thought was interesting.
There have been many visits by the bald eagles, with one recent visitor perching himself on the rocks of Middle Island. When this occurred, all four loons at this end of the lake, the two adults and the two chicks, boldly circled the rock until the eagle flew away. That same rock also played host to a large snapping turtle.
On Monday 8/8 there were two adult eagles and two young eagles in the trees on Big Island. When the loons spot the eagles in the air above them, they make a high pitched call (much like they do when the seaplane comes in).
The WLA is investigating a program called Loon Smart, a partnership between Maine Audubon and the Maine Lakes Society. We will be forthcoming with news about how we might participate in the future.
Please remember to be careful when boating on the lake, the loon chicks are still quite small compared to adult loons and can be hard to see, especially when the water is not smooth. According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife collisions with speeding boats and personal watercraft remain a leading cause of loon deaths in Maine be careful and encourage others to be aware.
Again, thank you Kim, Steve, Cathy, and Wendi for your efforts to count and report on the loons.
Loon Update Spring 2016 – Two Families and Three Chicks
Based on WLA volunteer observations, there appear to be two pairs of loons on the lake, with one nesting pair settling in on Middle Island and another pair on Big Island. About July 4th, one pair of chicks was spotted with an adult loon. And on about July 8, a third chick from the second nesting pair was spotted. Loons can pop up anywhere at any time – PLEASE keep an eye out for them and respect their space when boating. Thank you to the Lajoies and John Blake for the photos.
Loon Banding July 2014
On Wednesday evening, July 30, wildlife biologists from BioDiversity Research (www.briloon.org) completed banding loons on Watchic Lake. They were able to get both the male and female swamp loons and the male island loon banded. The female island loon didn’t want to cooperate. The chicks legs are not big enough to be banded at this time. Capture was done with a large net and a very bright light. Several measurements are taken including blood samples, throat swabs, and the birds weight, then bands are applied and the loon is released. It takes about 35-40 minutes to process a loon from capture to release. Overall, a very interesting evening! Thanks to Ben Tripp for providing this information.
Banding allows Maine Audubon and other similar organizations to identify individual loons to understand their history and provide better data for loon population models. While the loons are not harmed, they can be quite noisy during. You can learn more here about the Maine Audubon Loon Project.