Greensboro, News

Caspian Lake Loons Hatch Two Chicks

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GREENSBORO – Visitors to the shores of Caspian Lake have recently been seeing and capturing photos of a pair of loon chicks and their parents.

“Few birding experiences rival hearing the haunting call of the loon or seeing them glide by in protected coves on a lake,” wrote the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department in a June 3 press release titled, “Protect Nesting Loons and Loon Chicks. For the birds’ protection, boaters and anglers are asked to enjoy loons from a safe distance this summer.

photo by Katherine Hicock
An adult loon catches a crayfish to feed two small loon chicks while they swim near their second parent on Caspian Lake June 16, just before noon. Katherine Hicock was kayaking about 40 feet from shore when she took this photo.

“Loons were removed from Vermont’s endangered species list in 2005, but they face continued threats from human disturbance during the breeding season and ingestion of fishing gear,” said Rosalind Renfrew, wildlife biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

In June last year, Craftsbury’s Eric Hanson, a biologist with the Vermont Loon Conservation Project and Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) said to VTDigger, one of the loons he banded in 1998, during his first season doing that work, “was found to have died recently at an estimated age of 31. He was the oldest documented loon in Vermont. It’s possible he could be even older, as that age is based on the assumption that the loon was 6-years-old and in his first year of nesting during that first encounter!” That loon was originally found at Newark Pond and dubbed “Newark Pond Male.”

by by Katherine Hicock
A loon with two chicks on Caspian Lake June 16 as Katherine Hicock kayaked along the northwest shore of the lake. For the birds’ protection, boaters and anglers are asked to enjoy loons from a safe distance this summer, says Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department.

“There was a period there for about 10 years that we didn’t see (Newark Pond Male),” Hanson said. “So we think he may have gotten kicked out of the territory for a few years, and then won his way back into the territory.”

“To me, it’s so cool that these birds are kind of vying for territory,” he said. “They’re always checking each other out. The non-breeders are checking each other out. They’ll have a dispute. They might hold it, they might lose it, and if they lose it, then there’s a change in the mates.”

This year’s pair of Caspian Lake loons nested in the lake’s northwest cove where they and their chicks now seem to be spending most of the time.

“Many areas where loons nest on Vermont’s lakes are surrounded by signs reminding people to give loons the space they need, but not all nesting areas are marked. We’re asking people to enjoy loons from a distance rather than approaching them, whether you are in a boat or on shore,” said Renfrow.

She reminds people to avoid using lead fishing tackle. Every year Vermont loons die from lead poisoning after swallowing fishing tackle. Lead sinkers weighing one-half ounce or less are prohibited in Vermont, but larger tackle­­­ still has the capacity to slough off lead into the environment over time.

Renfrew recommends anglers be careful to not attract loons to their bait and lures, and especially to not leave any fishing line behind as it can entangle and kill loons.

To give anglers a place to discard their lead tackle, VCE will be placing collection tubes for lead tackle and discarded fishing line at over 20 boat access areas beginning this summer. VCE coordinates the loon project in partnership with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Hanson asks anglers to reel in for a few minutes if loons are diving nearby.

He and his colleagues monitor Vermont’s loon population and have put out game cameras around loon nests to monitor the behavior of people around them. Hanson says most people are respectful of nesting loons and give them space, but people sometimes inadvertently harm loons without meaning to.

“Loon chicks can be difficult to see, so we ask motor-boaters to note where loon families are and to avoid those areas,” said Hanson. “We also ask that motor-boaters obey ‘no wake’ laws within 200 feet of shorelines because boat wakes can flood and destroy shoreline loon nests.”

As Vermont’s loon population continues to increase and canoeing and kayaking continues to become more popular, there is greater potential for people to come into conflict with loons. Hanson reminds boaters to avoid pursuing loons in a canoe or kayak, especially loons with young.

“Occasionally a loon will be curious and approach people, and if that happens, just enjoy it,” said Hanson. “However, loons that are constantly swimming away from you are stressed and may abandon their young if they feel they are in danger.”

Hanson urges shoreline property owners to maintain appropriate habitat for loons, including shrubby and forested areas along shorelines, where loons can nest. Having shrubs and trees instead of lawns along shorelines also improves water quality which is essential for healthy lakes, aquatic insects, fish eggs, fish and loons.

“When Newark Pond Male was banded in 1998, the loon was still on Vermont’s endangered species list, but the population had already begun to rise. That year, researchers counted 40 territorial pairs, of which 30 pairs nested. In 2022, the total number of territorial pairs had bloomed to 139 with 106 nesting pairs,” the VTDigger article noted last year.

Volunteers interested in monitoring loons for the Loon Conservation Project should contact Hanson at [email protected]. Volunteers can monitor lakes all summer long with a focus on lakes with loon pairs and nesting.

Volunteers can also survey one or two lakes on Loonwatch Day, being held on July 20 this year, between 8 and 9 a.m. The goal is to survey all lakes greater than 20 acres at the same time, which provides a population count and checks on small lakes that are surveyed less often during the rest of the year.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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