A common loon swimming in a Maine lake. Maine Audubon will hold its annual loon count this Saturday. Maine Audubon photo

Annual loon count set for Saturday

ELLSWORTH — More than 850 volunteers will survey lakes and ponds across Maine, counting loons and collecting valuable scientific data that informs and supports conservation efforts, when Maine Audubon holds its 34th annual Loon Count this Saturday, July 15.

This year’s count takes place from 7 to 7:30 a.m. Counters will be assigned areas to count from shore or by boat, and regional coordinators will compile the results and send them to Maine Audubon for analysis.

“Loons are one of the best indicators of lake health, because they depend on lakes with clean, clear water and lots of fish,” Susan Gallo, director of the Maine Loon Project, said in a statement.

The loon count is the centerpiece of Maine Audubon’s Maine Loon Project. Through the project, Maine Audubon actively engages people in conservation, educates the public about loon biology and conservation and collects the scientific data needed to advocate for public policies that benefit loons and the lakes where they live.

“This annual count has helped build public awareness about the important role these iconic birds play in Maine,” Gallo said. “The data it yields has also built critical support for laws that keep our lakes and loons healthy, including regulations around lead free tackle, shoreline development, and invasive plants. Not to mention that, for 34 years, the count has been a great way to get people outside onto Maine’s lakes, learning about where loons are, where they nest, and how easy it is to share a lake with a loon family.”

Last year, the 2016 Loon Count enlisted almost 900 volunteers to survey 304 Maine lakes and ponds. Despite the challenges posed by torrential rain, Maine Audubon calculated the loon population in the southern half of Maine to be 2,848 adult loons and 384 chicks.

Although the population of adults was about seven percent lower than the average of the previous five years, (3,069), the long-term trend remains positive, according to Maine Audubon. The 2016 number was twice what the very first estimate of 1,416 adults was in 1984. The estimate for chicks has consistently gone up and down over the last 33 years, with 2016 bringing a pleasantly surprising 76 percent increase over 2015. Looking back over the last 15 years, it is the third highest chick estimate on record.

Gallo credits the success of adult loons in part to the efforts of lake associations, landowners and Maine lawmakers, who have all created conditions for cleaner water and healthier fish populations in Maine lakes and ponds. Lake visitors and boaters play an important role in letting loons thrive, by keeping boat speed down and by watching loons and their chicks from a distance.

“Loon nests are located right on the shoreline, so they are very sensitive to changes in water levels,” Gallo said. “A heavy rainstorm, or wake from a boat going too fast too close to shore, can flood their nests, and eggs literally wash away. We’re coming into the busiest time of year on lakes, so it’s important for people to give loons room and follow Maine’s headway speed law when they are within 200 feet of shore.”

This year, loon counters and others interested in loon conservation also have the opportunity to get involved with two projects that have developed in partnership with Maine Audubon.

The Signs of the Seasons phenology program is looking for volunteers to monitor loons and their chicks throughout the summer.

The Maine Lakes Society has created a Loon Smart Award for homeowners enrolled in their Lake Smart program.

For more information, visit maineaudubon.org/loons or contact Annica McGuirk at 781-2330.