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Mascoma Lake loon dies shortly after release following treatment for lead poisoning

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2021 9:36:45 PM
Modified: 7/22/2021 9:36:53 PM

ENFIELD — The loon that was released into Mascoma Lake on Tuesday after being treated for lead poisoning died the next day, according to the New Hampshire nonprofit that had tried to rescue the bird. A necropsy showed that despite extensive treatment, it could not withstand the toxic levels of lead in its blood.

“We were very hopeful. The release was very exciting. We had eight or nine people there,” said Terri Lynch, an Enfield volunteer who monitors the loons on the lake.

But the lead exposure put an end to that optimism.

“I guess it was just too much,” she said.

Around midday on Wednesday, friends called and told her the loon was on their beach on the southern end of the lake.

“That was a bad sign,” Lynch said. “They don’t go on land usually. ... He went back into the water. He was not acting normally — he wasn’t diving. There was hope that he just needed some recuperation time.”

Later that day, she got another call. The loon was dead.

“It just goes to show how insidious lead poisoning can be,” said Caroline Hughes, a field biologist with the Moultonborough, N.H.-based Loon Preservation Committee. “We gave him the best care that we could. Things were looking up, but he still didn’t make it. Treatment is really, really tough on a lead-poisoned loon.”

The loon was rescued from the lake last week, and workers at The Tufts Wildlife Clinic were able to flush out lead tackle in its gizzard during a procedure on Friday.

While the loon was in treatment, its mate faced an uphill battle to protect their chick, which died over the weekend. It was found floating on the lake with a broken wing. Hughes said that a necropsy confirmed that an intruding loon had stabbed the chick and destroyed its liver.

“If there were two remaining loons in the world, they’d go after each other,” Hughes said. “Even with them fighting, the frequency of loons dying from other loons pales in comparison to the deaths from lead tackle.”

Lead poisoning accounts for 41% of loon deaths that the Loon Preservation Committee has documented since 1989, making it the leading cause of death for the at-risk species. Advocates achieved a milestone when small lead tackle was banned in New Hampshire. As long as some anglers still use lead tackle, though, the loons are still in danger. Hughes also encourages anglers to move to a new location when they see a loon so that it won’t get tangled in the fishing line.

“It’s a sad situation, and what makes it sadder was that it’s a totally preventable situation. There are alternatives to lead tackle anglers can use,” Hughes said.

Lynch collects old lead tackle from her neighbors and encourages them to take advantage of a buyback program. Participating retailers offer $10 vouchers in exchange for the toxic tackle (https://loonsafe.org/lpc-2021-lead-tackle-buyback).

“I just hope people will ... go to their tackle boxes and once and for all empty out the lead,” Lynch said. “And if it’s more than 4 years old, they should just assume that it’s lead.”

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.




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