e-Newsletter Vol. 45
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Two Winter Loon Rescues

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Happy New Year!!  You may have thought I was joking when I said loons would be feasting on crab and lobster on their wintering grounds, but check out these photos taken in Maine and Nova Scotia in 2014 & 2015.  Don't forget adult loons molt into a drab whitish-grey winter plumage before heading to the ocean which makes them unrecognizable to some.
Top photo: A loon enjoys a crab near Biddeford Pool, Maine.  Photo credit: Kittie Wilson.  Bottom photo: A loon enjoys a lobster in Arcadia, Nova Scotia (just outside Yarmouth).  Photo credit: Reigh Higgins.

Most of the lakes in NH have finally frozen over, but there was still open water on Lake Winnipesaukee as of January 21 (click here to view an "ice-in" webcam on Winni).  In the back of our minds we can't help but remember January 2007 when 20 loons were found frozen on Winnipesaukee after molting their flight feathers during a late freeze.  Loons usually molt their flight feathers while they are on the ocean between January-April, but in that case, they molted those feathers while on the lake. Unable to take off when the lake finally froze, they succumbed to a terrible fate as they were not found until it was too late.  The timing of loon migration is usually triggered by daylength, so when a loon lingers a little longer than it should, there is often an underlying problem that has prevented it from migrating in the first place.  That was the case for several of the dead loons found in 2007, and also for the young loon rescued last weekend.

Scroll down to read about the loon rescue on Broad Bay on January 6 & another rescue on January 17 on Highland Lake in Stoddard.  Ice rescues in general can be quite tricky, as it's imperative to wait until the ice is safe for a human to traverse it, but LPC has a protocol in place to deal with these situations.  However, we are never guaranteed to capture a loon and some of our best efforts have failed.  

Another loon was found at Twin State Sand & Gravel in West Lebanon, NH, and transported to Catherine Greenleaf from St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital for initial care.  After a few days, it was relayed to Avian Haven for further care.  Foot abrasions from a crash landing are the main concern for this loon, but hopefully wound management and time in the pool will help it recover.
A juvenile loon is enjoying time in a pool at Avian Haven in Freedom, Maine. In this underwater view, you can see how far back the legs are on its body, making it impossible for loons to walk on land.  Photo credit: Avian Haven

With the strange weather we have had so far this winter, we ask you to please keep an eye out for loons on the ice.

All the best,

Two Winter Loon Rescues.

Broad Bay- Freedom, NH
On January 6, we received a call from resident Tom Crotty about a loon trapped in a small patch of open water in Broad Bay, Freedom, NH. 

Later that afternoon LPC biologists, John Cooley & Tiffany Grade went to the scene to see if they could capture the loon.  After playing loon calls from shore, but realizing the loon was not going to respond, John Cooley put on our new rescue suit and pushed a jon-boat across the lake to the hole.  

The loon continued to dive repeatedly, coming up for a quick second each time.  It was apparent to John that the loon was able to find the opening pretty easily when it was underwater, so he moved the small boat into the hole.  After several minutes of watching the loon swim under the ice, John was able to anticipate where it was going to surface so he dipped the net in the water and captured it!   

After an overnight stay at Kappy Sprenger's the loon was transferred to Avian Haven in Freedom, Maine, for further evaluation. The blood test upon arrival showed a healthy loon, and with no obvious injuries and good waterproofing, they decided it was ready for release the next day.  The loon was taken to Penobscot Bay, Maine, where it very excited to see the open ocean!  
Photo credit: Avian Haven

Highland Lake- Stoddard, NH
On January 16, we got a call from Jim & Liana Poodiack about a trapped loon on Highland Lake in Stoddard, NH.  A small channel and the diving activity of the young loon, kept a very small patch of water open on the lake, just a few hundred feet from shore. 

Young loon trapped in the ice on Highland Lake in Stoddard, NH.  Photos: Brian Reilly.

The following day, John Cooley ventured down to Stoddard, along with LPC Trustee, Brian Reilly, to try to rescue the loon.  He probably did not expect or care to admit that the yellow rescue suit would come in handy twice in two weeks! All kidding aside, John is beginning to perfect the ice rescue, from pushing the jon-boat across the frozen lake to waiting patiently for the perfect moment to capture the loon in the net. After approximately 10-15 minutes of watching the loon dive & resurface, the golden opportunity presented itself.

Senior Biologist John Cooley ventures out on the ice to rescue a trapped loon.  Photos: Brian Reilly.

The loon remained still and calm & seemed lethargic after it was captured which sent up a red flag, as many of the healthy loons that we capture during the breeding season are quite fiesty and energetic.  Once on dry land and after no visible external injuries were observed, the loon was taken to Capital Area Veterinary Emergency & Specialty (CAVES) in Concord for an x-ray which showed no fractures or metal objects. However, a blood test revealed high lead levels of 31 ug/dl, much above the threshold of 20 ug/dl for clinical lead poisoning.  As lead poisoning starts to affect the central nervous system a loon will often exhibit tremors which John reported seeing when he had the bird in hand. Knowing this loon has lead poisoning explains why it didn't leave the lake in the first place.

Since there was no sign of a metal object in the loon's gizzard (meaning that it had already passed through the bird's gastrointestinal tract), rehabilitator Maria Colby decided to try chelation therapy.  The chelating medication should absorb the lead from the loon's bloodstream, but we won't know if this rare case is a success for several more days.  Initial treatments appear to be working, though, since the blood lead level decreased to 11 ug/dl!  Maria will re-test in a few days to see if the lead level is still dropping. Stay tuned for the next e-newsletter or on LPC's Facebook page for any updates on this loon. Hopefully this story will have a happy ending but the best way to prevent this is to fish lead-free.

2015 was the first time in LPC's history that a pair of loons successfully hatched chicks on the lake.  We assume that the compromised loon was one of the chicks that hatched last summer.  Many thanks to Liana & Jim Poodiack and Margo Santoro for watching and reporting it to LPC, and to CAVES and Maria Colby for their teamwork, dedication and care to help this loon. In so many of these rescue cases, it is the public concern that is instrumental in saving these loons.   

In addition to the suit and boat, we were equipped with ice awls and an ice axe, flotation devices, a pole, and the net, and we notified the local fire department before proceeding on the ice.  LPC's protocol for ice rescues is based on at least nine similar cases in the last decade, and reflects careful consideration of the numerous, serious hazards involved in travel over ice. 
The Loon Preservation Committee is dedicated to restoring and maintaining a healthy population of loons throughout New Hampshire; monitoring the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and promoting a greater understanding of loons and the natural world.
Susie Burbidge
Outreach/Volunteer Coordinator
Loon Preservation Committee