Loonspotting

The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey has kindly sent me much more information about its unique and successful annual loon count.

Born of concern that loons were starving in acid-rain-killed lakes in the 1970s, the survey has been active for almost 30 years, first in Ontario only, then Canada-wide as of 1989. Its data have shown that acidic lakes mean fewer loon chicks, with potentially devastating effects on loon populations. Survey says Western lakes have much more prolific loons than Eastern ones; one lake (Anglin Lake) in Saskatchewan is home to the highest number of loon pairs on a single lake in Canada.

There has been some bad news during the survey’s existence: I didn’t realize that a type of botulism (food poisoning) killed thousands of loons migrating through Lake Erie from 1999 to 2002.

There are good news stories too: some of the survey’s volunteer loonspotters noted that loons returned to Sudbury-area lakes in 2003, after an absence of 20 years. (Sudbury’s re-greening is an evolving environmental success story.)

The survey is compiling data that would be impossible to collect without its vast team of spotters, and contributing to our scientific understanding of the effects of environmental contamination, human activity on shorelines, breeding patterns, bird ranges, and so on. But it is also mobilizing Canadians to understand and assist their avian lake neighbours. Surveyors put out posters calling attention to dangers for loons. They post nesting areas so that people avoid them. They speak for the loons in muncipal decision-making concerning lakes.

It reminds me of the camp song my friend Barb sings about “a loon alone on a lake.” With all of us befriending the loons, they don’t seem so lonely any more.

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