e-Newsletter Vol. 46
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Five Loons Rescued on Lake Sunapee

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January 2016 might go down in the books as the busiest month for live loon winter rescues in LPC's 40-year history. All told, LPC Senior Biologist John Cooley rescued 7 loons trapped in the ice--one on Broad Bay in Freedom, one on Highland Lake in Stoddard, and five on Lake Sunapee near Newbury, NH. The trend continued into February with one more iced-in loon rescued from Paugus Bay on February 1.  Along with two crash landing cases that came in to New Hampshire rehabilitators in January, we've already seen 10 rescues in 2016. The successful capture on Paugus Bay was overshadowed by the fact that this was another lead-poisoned loon.  Wildlife rehabilitators at Avian Haven used chelation therapy to absorb the lead from its bloodstream.  A week after its rescue, the blood lead level was down to 2.5 ug/dl and the loon was diving well, preening, eating, and its overall fitness appeared to be strong, so it was released on February 9 in Penobscot Bay where two other loons were visible from shore! 
A adult loon, rescued from the ice on Lake Winnipesaukee, stretches its wings after being released in Penobscot Bay, Maine earlier this week. Photo: Mark Payne/Avian Haven
I promised that I would keep you updated on the outcome of the juvenile loon rescued on Highland Lake on January 17. You may recall that this loon had high levels of lead in its bloodstream, but had already passed the lead object, so wildlife rehabilitator Maria Colby tried chelation therapy. Initial treatments brought the blood lead level down from 31 ug/dl to 11 ug/dl, but the young loon needed to be monitored for a few more days to see if the level continued to drop. On January 23, the blood was tested again and the lead level had decreased to 9 ug/dl so the loon was released at Kittery Point (near Portsmouth) the next day!

The same day the juvenile loon was being released, three iced-in loons were spotted on Lake Sunapee by Jamie Hess and Lisa Putnam as they skated past.  We were quickly alerted to the situation and on January 26, a team of rescuers including LPC Senior Biologist John Cooley, LPC volunteer Linda Howes, Jamie Hess, Lisa Putnam and Wendy Anderson traversed the frozen lake to attempt to capture these birds. Upon their arrival at the small hole and after a quick glance around the lake, John discovered two more loons trapped in another nearby hole. See below for the full story on this loon rescue.

Three loons trapped in the ice on Lake Sunapee, about halfway between Loon Island Light and Blodgett's Landing.  Photo: Linda Howes.

I can't stress enough how hazardous ice rescues can be, and it is of utmost importance for the ice to be safe enough for the rescuer to traverse it.  For now, our winter rescue technique is still very much a work in progress and we are aware that this kind of rescue is not always feasible, safe, or successful.  The best approach depends on the circumstances, and on the available resources.  Some of our colleagues in neighboring states do not have the staff or resources to go out on the ice.
Please continue to keep an eye out for loons on the ice.  A strong El Nino, similar to the winter of 2007, has made for an interesting "off-season," to say the least!

I'll leave you with this great picture taken in late January in Nova Scotia.  The photographer calls it "Crab & a Salad!" Thanks to Reigh Higgins for sharing it with me.

All the best,

Susie Burbidge
Outreach/Volunteer Coordinator

SunapeeRescueFive Loons Rescued on Lake Sunapee

A rescue team, consisting of LPC Senior Biologist John Cooley, LPC volunteer Linda Howes and skaters Jamie Hess, Lisa Putnam and Wendy Anderson carefully traversed frozen Lake Sunapee pushing a Jon-boat with other rescue equipment across the ice to the edge of the first hole which contained three loons.  After watching the loons dive and resurface several times, teetering on the edge of the boat, and going for a brief swim in the frigid water, John was able to capture them, one-by-one, with a large net.  
LPC Senior Biologist John Cooley captures one of five loons trapped in the ice on Lake Sunapee.  Photo Credit: Linda Howes

Once the first three loons were safely onshore, John and the rescue team headed back to the second hole to capture the other two loons.  LSPA Executive Director June Fichter & I watched through binoculars as the other two loons were captured and transported back to shore.  Once all five loons were loaded into the vehicles they were taken to The Loon Center in Moultonborough for bloodwork and banding.  Upon closer examination LPC biologists found that all 5 adult loons were in some stage of flight feather molt, a yearly process that normally takes place between January-April when the loons are on their ocean wintering grounds.  This leaves them flightless for a few weeks, so the stranded loons would not have been able to take off even if there was more open water on Lake Sunapee.  
All five adult loons were in the process of molting their flight feathers which kept them from flying off the lake when the ice came in. Photo: Harry Vogel

One of the loons was previously banded in 1998 on Sand Pond in Marlow, NH, which makes him at least 20 years old.  After the four unbanded loons were banded, they were all transported to rehabilitator Kappy Sprenger who then relayed them to Avian Haven Wildlife Rehabiliation Center in Freedom, Maine for further care.  
One of the adult loons captured on Lake Sunapee was previously banded in 1998, making him at least 20 years old.  Photo: Linda Howes

After an overnight stay in a pool at Avian Haven, three of the loons were released in Penobscot Bay, Maine.  The fourth loon needed some minor repair work on its bill, but it was released a few days later in Penobscot Bay as well.

Rescued loons enjoy time in the pool at Avian Haven before being released off the coast of Maine. Photo credit: Terry Heitz/Avian Haven

Blood tests revealed that the fifth adult had very high levels of lead in its bloodstream--more than three times the threshold for clinical lead poisoning.  An x-ray showed a large lead sinker in the gastrointestinal tract.  Wildlife rehabilitators at Avian Haven attempted to remove the sinker by flushing it out of the bird's system, but this treatment was unsuccessful. They started the loon on chelation therapy to absorb lead from the bloodstream and after several days, it finally passed the lead sinker.  This is good news indeed, however, the loon needs to be monitored for a while longer to see if the lead levels stay down and whether it will be able to fully recover from the lead poisoning.  It must be able to function normally (dive, forage, preen, etc..) to be a candidate for release.  

The top x-ray shows the initial location of the lead sinker (circled) and the middle picture shows the sinker near the loon's vent, about to be passed.  The bottom photo is the sinker that came out of the loon.  Photos courtesy of Avian Haven.

LPC credits the reporting of these loons by concerned members of the public with saving these birds.  LPC would like to extend heartfelt thanks to Jamie Hess, Lisa Putnam, Linda Howes, and Wendy Anderson for assisting on the ice, to June Fichter of LSPA for providing onshore support and transporting the loons to LPC, and to Kappy Sprenger and Avian Haven for their part in working to save these loons.

Although hopeful, these treatments are truly experimental, with many uncertainties.  Even if a loon has recovered enough to be released, will it be able to defend a territory, breed, raise chicks, and make the trip back and forth from the ocean for years to come?  We know from lead chelation cases in other species like eagles and swans that full recovery is very unlikely for a poisoned bird.  Unfortunately, these loons are likely to suffer at least some long term, irreversible damage, even if they recover enough to be released and survive for some time in the wild. 

The latest report from Avian Haven is that the loon will receive another round of chelation therapy after which they will re-check the blood lead level.  So far, the loon does not appear to be able to dive well.  Please keep an eye out in the next e-newsletter for the latest update.
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
Loon Preservation Committee