Saving the Birds: Recent Storms Affect Upper Valley’s Loon Population

  • Terri and Bud Lynch, of Enfield, N.H., tour Mascoma Lake while on the lookout for loons, including a family near the Lebanon end of the lake on July 28, 2017. Terri Lynch said their annual midsummer count found 13 this summer, compared to five found the first time she was part of the Mascoma Lake Association's count in 2006. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

  • A loon and its days-old chick on Pleasant Lake in New London, N.H., in June 2016. (Kittie Wilson photograph) Kittie Wilson photograph

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 7/30/2017 12:14:19 AM
Modified: 7/30/2017 12:35:28 AM

Enfield — As heavy rain and wind pummeled parts of the Twin States on the July 1 weekend, loons had a driving goal: save the nest.

A loon parent in the Lakes Region weathered nickel-sized hail while incubating its eggs, an episode captured on a webcam maintained by the Moultonborough, N.H.-based Loon Preservation Committee.

“It was just amazing that a bird would sit there and take it,” Grantham loon enthusiast Sheridan Brown said in an interview on Thursday.

Yet not all loon couples were able to defend their nests from the storm. Cummins Pond in Dorchester and Goose Pond in Canaan both lost loon nests to floodwaters. Meanwhile, a loon residing on Post Pond in Lyme was swept into Clay Brook, where it remained trapped for nearly a week.

Catherine Greenleaf coordinated the effort to rescue the stranded loon, not an unusual task for the director of Lyme’s St. Francis Wild Bird Center. The freak nature of the storm — more than 4 inches of rain fell, and rain gauges counted far more over the weekend — took her aback, however.

“This July 1st rain event, this is kind of an outside-the-box kind of situation — it’s kind of crazy — because the loon has no way to come back into Post Pond, because the water was so high,” she said.

Last year, the Loon Preservation Committee classified seven nest failures in New Hampshire as caused by flooding. That number appears poised to increase this year.

John H. Cooley Jr., senior biologist at the group, which is based near Lake Winnipesaukee, described last summer as “unusually dry,” characterized by drought conditions throughout much of New Hampshire.

“But this year in the Sunapee region alone, we have five nest failures that we know were flooded,” he said, “and so statewide we may easily double or triple the number from last year of flooded nests.”

The generous rainfall this spring, which Loon Preservation Committee director Harry Vogel cited as New Hampshire’s fourth-wettest in the last century, is a potential contributor to recent flood events, which also claimed nests on Orange Pond, in Orange, and Mascoma Lake.

Loons typically build their nests close to the water’s edge, which increases their susceptibility to flooding.

Terri Lynch knows this truth all too well. Since moving into her Enfield home on Mascoma Lake in 2005, she has witnessed nests fail at a high rate.

In 2007, a predator snatched the egg. In 2008 and 2010, flooding did the job. In 2014, more flooding.

“That was a really bad year,” Lynch recalled. “The nest flooded, and they re-nested, and it flooded again.”

Lynch belongs to a network of 800-some volunteers who conduct annual loon censuses on lakes throughout New Hampshire, then report their findings to the preservation committee.

“I always say, our work begins and ends with counting loons,” Vogel said.

While acknowledging the danger severe weather poses to loons, Vogel described human-introduced hazards, such as lead fishing tackle, as an even greater threat.

Lead consumption was responsible nearly half of all documented loon deaths in New Hampshire over the past two decades, he said, adding, “The smallest little piece of lead split-shot sinker that you can imagine, if it’s ingested, will kill that bird within two to four weeks.”

Brown, the Grantham resident, helped lead a successful effort to pass greater restrictions on the sale and use of lead fishing tackle in New Hampshire. Yet, he said, it may take a while to root out such items altogether.

“If you haven’t bought it very recently, most likely it’s going to be lead,” he said. “If you stick your fingernail into it and it seems soft, it’s probably lead. And with all the other things we know about lead, it’s probably beneficial to have your kids handling something other than lead when they’re out fishing.”

Given that loons generally do not begin breeding until they are 6 or 7 years old, Brown is concerned primarily with protecting mature individuals.

“The loss of a nest for a season is nothing compared to the loss of a breeding adult,” he said.

Gabe Brison-Trezise can be reached at g.brisontrezise@gmail.com.




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