Loon Update from Kim and Steve – August 2023

As many are aware we have three nesting pairs with chicks on the lake this year. Over the past 15 years this is the first time there have been more than two successful pairs.  One pair nested on Blueberry Island and hatched two chicks, one pair on Middle Island had one chick, and the final pair on Big Island had one chick. 

Then the last weekend in July was a rough one for the loons on Watchic Lake. First, on Saturday, July 29 we were notified that one of the Blueberry Island chicks had beached itself (which is never a good sign).  We collected the chick and brought him to a certified wildlife rehabilitator in Bridgeton. Unfortunately the chick died the next day.  The rehabilitator told us there was blood in the droppings which indicate internal injuries and that they were most likely caused by a boat strike.  Boat strikes are the leading cause of loon deaths in Maine.

Then, we continued tracking a lone adult loon (not one of the three pairs) that had been acting strangely for about two weeks, hanging near shore, hiding behind floats, and on at least two occasions, beaching itself.  Generally there are two reasons adult loons beach themselves: 1) they are exhausted from fighting other loons or 2) lead poisoning from ingesting lead fishing tackle. We were hoping it was just exhaustion but on Sunday evening, July 30, we received a call about a dead loon in the Paine Brook inlet. We found the body and collected it and on Monday delivered it to Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland. They plan to send the loon to Tufts veterinary school in Boston for a necropsy to determine the cause of death.  Folks had seen an eagle pecking at the dead loon earlier in the day and speculated that it had killed the loon but this is almost certainly not the case and that the eagle was scavenging the already dead bird.

On a more positive note, we also had received calls about one of the Big Island adult loon pair that appeared to have an injury to its leg. But happily, we took some pictures and were able to determine, with assistance from Lee Attix at Loon Conservation Associates, that the red seen was actually a band on the male loon that has been on the lake for a number of years. So no injuries.

To sum up, for the first time in many years, we currently have three loon pairs with one chick each on the lake.  The chicks are getting bigger quickly but still have limited ability to dive. It is critically important that all boaters keep a sharp lookout for loons and avoid them and that we all stop using lead fishing gear.  Maine has outlawed the sale of lead fishing tackle precisely because even a small amount of lead is deadly to loons.  The complete elimination of the use of lead tackle is phased in over a number of years but please look in your tackle box and safely dispose of any remaining lead tackle now.  

You may see other adult loons on the lake in the coming weeks, these are immature “teenagers” who travel from lake to lake and are more often tolerated by the nesting pairs at this time of year. As always, if you spot any unusual loon activity please contact Kim and Steve Lajoie through the WLA and we will investigate.

Steve and Kim