The Loons

Swamp loon with two chicks

Swamp loon with two chicks

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. See annual updates below.

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.

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]

Too listen to the loon calls, try this video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Or check out this information from the Loon Preservation Committee “the Voice of the Loon” which describes the various loon calls and their meanings.

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 Count Summer 2023

The annual Audubon Loon count was also held Saturday, July 15. We had a successful loon count early in the morning. Three new volunteers joined alongside eight seasoned counters. There were quite a few loon sightings. We recorded three loon pairs, four babies and one lone adult loon.  Thank you to Wendi Rodrigueza, John Burke, Steve Lajoie, Kim Lajoie, Rob Brisk, Monica Mahoney, Cathy Watson, Erica Lebrun, Mandy Lebrun, Jim Simpson, and Paul Baptiste.

Loon Update Summer 2021

Every year is a new experience in the life of a loon observer and 2021 was no different. This June we saw unprecedented high temperatures in Maine which may have been the reason that two eggs were successfully laid, but did not hatch on Watchic Lake. Research has shown that high temperatures and precipitation patterns are posing threats to breeding success of loons throughout the US and Canada. Watchic Lake saw no successful nests on either end of the lake even though we installed a floating nesting platform in the Paine Brook inlet. We will continue to monitor the nesting activity in and around the lake.

2021 was the year of the teenage loon on Watchic Lake! We participated again in the Annual Audubon Loon Count in July where eight teen loons and two adult pairs were counted and recorded with the state. Loon parents leave their chicks during the fall of their first year but it takes 6-7 years before they are at adult breeding age. During that time the teens stay together in groups which is what we witnessed this year on our lake. It is a testament to the health of our lake and quality of water that it can support and feed the future generation of loons. As of this writing (September 2021) only four teen loons are consistently on the lake. They spend their winter months in the ocean where they can fish before returning to open fresh water in the spring.

WLA Floating Nesting Site

With some modifications, our 2022 plan is to continue to offer the floating nesting site in the Paine Brook inlet. We sincerely appreciate the residents and guests of Watchic Lake honoring the need to provide quiet and sanctuary in the Paine Brook area while the loons are nesting.

Boat strikes continue to be the number one cause of loon deaths in the State of Maine. Please always watch out for diving loons, they can not outrun a boat propeller! Also, please observe at a distance. Loons are especially sensitive to human interaction. They will abandon nests if disturbed, leaving eggs unincubated and at risk for predation. Lead fishing tackle also continues to be a leading cause of death in the state of ME even though the sale of lead tackle has been phased out since 2016. For loons, ingestion of lead tackle is almost always fatal with loons typically dying a painful death within 2-4 weeks.

Loon Update Summer 2020

2020 Loon and two chicks

Our Watchic Lake Loons are doing well – Update from Kim and Steve Lajoie.

There are quite a few loons on the lake this year (10 to 12), perhaps due to the death of female loon last year. We had two loon chicks hatched on Saturday, July 18. These are the only babies on the lake this year so please be extra careful at the North West end of the lake, the chicks are very small and cannot dive to get out of the path of boats.  Also, please remember to stay 200 yards away from the loons and the chicks, be sure to bring binoculars when out on the lake to get a close-up view.

The annual Audubon Loon count was also held Saturday, July 18 and with the help of volunteers Martha Drew, Don Drew, and their daughter Jennifer, Dave Maus, his friend Simeon, Cathy Watson, Wendy Rodrigueza and Matt Beaucroft we were able to count 12 loons, plus the two chicks on the lake!

And don’t forget, the leading cause of loon deaths in Maine is boat hits – please be vigilant when boating and watch out for diving loons!

Loon Update Summer 2019

Our Watchic Lake Loons are doing well – Update from Kim and Steve Lajoie.

There has been much loon activity on the lake this spring and summer!  We had one nesting pair on Middle Island and one nesting pair on Blueberry Island.  The Middle Island baby was born on July 3rd and that is the baby we are now seeing on the lake.  Unfortunately, the Blueberry Island baby has not survived.  The Middle Island baby appears to be healthy and well taken care of by its parents.  It is shallow diving at this point so its more important to be on the lookout (especially on the west side of the lake in the area north of Kiwanis Beach) as it is vulnerable to boats and boat propellers until early October, .

Because we have only one parental pair on the west end of the lake and no loon defending the east end, the lake has seen a lot of teen loons (up to 10) fishing on the east side of the lake.  These teen loons stay together for support, protection and company until they are mature enough to take a mate.  Typically, they are forced by defending loons to “lake hop” but they have taken up residence safely in our lake this year.  If we have a pair successfully nest in the east end of the lake next year we will most likely not see groups in this number again. It continues to be true that  if they migrate into the defending territory they will be chased away by the parents.

Our lake participated in the Annual Maine loon count on July 20th. Three boats participated in the count and 10 adult loons and 1 baby were reported seen. The state collects and tracks this data for research and information for maintaining a healthy loon population in the state.

Please Look Out For Loons!

Loon Update Fall 2017

Teen and adult loons on Watchic Lake October 2017Our Watchic Lake Loons are doing well – Update from Kim and Steve Lajoie

Nature is such a changing, dynamic, dramatic, shifting piece in our lives whether or not we are noticing it.  Years ago we decided to forgo TV at our camp in exchange for looking out our window and observing the loons and more.  We spent our time watching the sky change, the wind on the water, the myriad of birds who visit the lake and, of course, the lives of our incredible loons.

This year, two baby loons were born on the east end of the lake.  We are happy to report that the two chicks are successfully finding food on their own, look healthy and are exploring the entire lake.

The island loons did build and sit on a nest but, the fate of the one baby is unknown.  We suspect that the parents abandoned the nest because of too much human interaction, but only they know for sure.  This led to many gatherings of teen loons and lots of squabbling between them and the four adults for territory (see photo of four teens and two adults).  It is a spectacular thing to see seven or eight loons together. They are social, smart, loyal, engaging, and persistent.  And while we’ve missed watching a baby from early in its life to its eventual fly away to the ocean in November, the experience of witnessing the life of the teen loon was gratifying.

This year, we participated in the annual Audubon Loon Count in July and on that day we reported seven loons on the lake; five adults and two babies; good signs of a healthy lake. We look forward to participating again next year.

As always, please contact us with updates, questions or concerns regarding the loons and always “Watch Out for Loons”.

Sincerely, Kim and Steve Lajoie

Earlier Loon Updates