Loon enthusiasts ‘hope for a chick’
By Sue Tiffin
For several years, residents in Ingoldsby have been keeping an eye on a recurring loon’s nest on what Marj Andre calls “Gull Island,” in Lake Kashagawigamog. But observers taking in the activity of a pair of loons from a distance while on their docks or from the road haven’t been able to celebrate a successful hatch. This year might be the year, they hope, with two eggs currently being incubated and estimated to hatch near the end of July.
“The people who live up here, both cottagers and current residents, their love of loons, their concern, it’s like the gossip of everyone,” said Andre, who cottages nearby. “When you meet a neighbour, one of the first things you say, after commenting on the weather, is about the loons. You pass anybody, they’re talking about loons, and reflecting on it.”
The scene on the rock outcropping close to the shoreline has been an active one, with residents sharing stories with each other – by email when need be if seasonal residents are not yet up – chronicling what they’ve witnessed: a gull and a loon nesting on the same land; a loon acting wildly, her feathers possibly infested with blackflies; aggressive battles between loons and ducks or loons and gulls, sometimes to the death; the beloved egg, rolled about eight feet from the nest, abandoned again. Andre, a former nature interpreter, and her neighbours speculate on what might be happening to the eggs to leave them unhatched – predators, busy water scaring the adult loons, humid and stormy days.
“All of this projection is what happens, and everyone’s sort of discussing it, so that in and of itself, it’s like a soap opera,” she said. “Their enthusiasm and attention to details, much like a soap opera, is there. I find that as a social phenomenon quite fascinating.”
Andre said that in a world full of troubles, it’s a positive thing that people are aware of what is happening with their local wildlife, and not surprising that they’re enthralled with the loons. She posts photos she takes with a telephoto lens to social media, where people follow the egg’s saga.
In annual reports published by the Lake Kashagawigamog Organization, news of loon activity has been noted for years. In March 2014, there were four known pairs of loons that returned to the lake each year. In the fall of 2015, a survey of the loons on behalf of Bird Studies Canada reported two chicks on Kash, and 24 adult loons on Kashagawigamog and Grass lakes, with 14 being paired up. The reports remind residents to limit boat traffic near nesting sites, as it can be disruptive.
Right now throughout Canada, Kathy Jones, volunteer manager with Bird Studies Canada, said overall loons are maintaining their population, but are getting closer to that point of worry. Surveys look at how well the loons are breeding, and how successful they are each year at their hatch.
“At this point it’s more of a warning and a red flag than an actual problem,” she said. “We don’t know if this is just cyclical or if we have something here to be concerned about.”
She said that at least five or six pairs are breeding on Lake Kashagawigamog based on past studies, and that there are a lot of variables as to why the Ingoldsby birds might not have successfully hatched an egg there yet.
Males choose the nesting site for a pair, she said, and it can take up to eight years for them to choose a good spot until they find one that works for them. Andre’s “Gull Island,” might be a place where a loon pair – and it could be a different loon pair being spotted each time – can try each year and then opt for a different spot on the lake. Lake level fluctuations (loons can only handle a water increase of six inches up or 12 inches down during the breeding season) and black fly infestations can affect breeding and hatching.
“The best things residents can do is just work together and just be aware of the wildlife, and make sure of things like along the shorelines they [make] the smart decisions, slow down along the shorelines with the boats – even canoes near a hidden nest can surprise an adult and [have it abandon the nest], just steer clear, stay away,” she said.
She said in the long-term, working toward a healthy lake is essential.
“A healthy lake is healthy for loons,” she said. “If you have a healthy loon population, your lake is probably doing pretty good.”
“People get very attached to the loons, they want their loon pair to do well and have healthy chicks and everything else and I get that, and it’s hard to accept that you know what, if you have 10 pairs on that lake a year, you need to have five chicks survive,” she said. “They really are designed as a species to only have one or two chicks survive every couple of years. So while we absolutely love seeing our loon chicks, they don’t always succeed at parenting in a given year.”
Jones said that July 1 is usually the time for first hatches, and she suspects this loon’s nest is a second attempt at a hatch. Incubation is about four weeks, 28 days.
“The fact that [Andre’s] only seeing one loon at a time, which means one’s on the nest, one’s out doing whatever it’s doing, I’m pretty sure, I’m willing to bet that in the next two weeks sometime they’re going to get a chick hatched, they’re going to have chicks,” said Jones.
In shared emails between neighbours ensuring someone will report on the Ingoldsby nest activity while others are away, one last sign-off says it all: “Let’s hope for a chick.”
For more information on the common loon, visit birdscanada.org