A young loon chick enjoys a snack while out for a ride. Loon chicks ride on their parent's backs for their first 7-10 days for protection and to help with temperature regulation as well. Photo courtesy of Kittie Wilson.
By ALANA PERSSON, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MOULTONBOROUGH — More than 300 people are expected to flock to the Loon Center today for the 40th annual Loon Festival. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. members of the Loon Preservation Committee invites the public to celebrate the state's loon population.
The common loon has always been an important part of New Hampshire, according to Harry Vogel, senior biologist and executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee. There are many threats to the birds' survival. In response to past declines in the loon population, Vogel and nearly 800 other volunteers have been working tirelessly to ensure that loons continue to thrive here.
The committee has been putting manmade nesting rafts into the lake since the 1970s, providing loons a safe place to nest away from shore. Last year the committee surpassed 100 nests in the water. More than one in four chicks hatched each year are born on one of the rafts, according to Vogel.
“What we are trying to do is make sure that every year we encourage these birds and keep them alive,” said Vogel. “We want them to live, which may mean giving them alternate nesting sites or peace for chicks when they are born.”
That peace comes in the form of ropes placed around rafts that have nests on them. These ropes help keep boats, kayaks and swimmers away from the nesting areas. Oftentimes people are interested in viewing the nests and get too close, which can have negative effects on the chicks. If people get too close to nests, the loons may abandon their chicks, or become distracted and forget to feed them. Giving loons space is essential to ensure chicks will survive the season.
Other improvements made to ensure loons have a better chance at flourishing include the banning of lead sinkers or jigs, which were commonly used by fishermen. Biologists examining the cause of deaths for loons had found that an overwhelming number of them had perished due to ingesting lead objects. With the elimination of this toxin, loons and other water born animals are expected to have a better chance of survival.
However, some of the factors that impact a loon's survival are out of human control, according to Vogel. Major storms can destroy many nests that have been created on the lake shores.
“We aren’t sure exactly how loons are doing this year because for all we know there could be a thunderstorm that comes in that destroys a lot of nests,” said Vogel. “We can say, though, that there have been many successful hatches and some not successful, but we are hopeful that it will be a good year for the loons.”
A better idea of how the loons have done this season will be determined in August, as by that time all chicks will have been hatched. Peak hatch is around the Fourth of July and continues throughout the month.
As part of today's Loon Festival, a loon census will be conducted this morning throughout the state, which aims to give the committee a better idea of how many loons are currently populating the waters. Following the census, the festivities will include an educational presentation with the science center featuring live animals, a biologist dunk tank, and free lunch provided by the Meredith Rotary Club. A member of the New Hampshire Senate will proclaim the day Loon Appreciation Day.
For more information about the event, call 476-5666.