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June 23. 2013 6:56PM

Shoreline nests

NH boaters warned to watch out for loons


A loon in a raft nest put on Lake Winnipesaukee last year by Loon Preservation Committee volunteers and staff. (COURTESY PHOTO)

MOULTONBOROUGH — As July 4 approaches, the staff and volunteers of the Loon Preservation Committee are asking boaters on New Hampshire lakes to keep an eye out for nesting loons.

The peak of the hatching period of loon chicks usually occurs around the Fourth of July, at the same time that the lakes are busy with holiday boaters, said Harry Vogel, senior biologist and executive director of the committee.

Loons aren't bothered much by fireworks, Vogel said, but careless holiday boaters often disturb loon nests by coming too close to them along shorelines.

"It's bad timing," Vogel said. "It's nesting season, and one of the biggest challenges loons face is the heavy number of lake users."

The loon committee recorded its first pair of nesting loons this year on Pleasant Lake on May 11. Since then many more loon pairs have begun to incubate eggs.

Last year, committee biologists recorded 188 pairs of nesting loons on New Hampshire lakes. They also recorded 99 "failed" nests, Vogel said. Loon nests fail because of human disturbance, predation or water-level changes.

The committee isn't sure how many loons lose or abandon their nests and eggs because of human interference.

"The first one is too many," he said.

Loon nests are generally made of matted grasses and twigs, built near the water level along shorelines. They like to nest near islands or in coves on shorelines.

The committee has two requests of boaters who may come upon a loon nest:

• Boaters (and shore walkers) should stay back at least 150 feet from a nesting loon, further back if the loon shows any signs of distress, such as craning its neck low over a nest. Loons may even appear to be injured or dead while in this head-down position, but it is simply a response to the close approach of people, according to the committee.

• If you inadvertently cause a loon to flush from the nest, leave the area immediately to let the loon return to incubate its eggs. Time off the nest leaves the eggs vulnerable to cooling, overheating, or predation.

"It's really all about maintaining a respectful distance," Vogel said.

Loons are a threatened species in New Hampshire and are protected by state and federal laws from hunting or harassment, including flushing loons from nests. Anyone observing harassment of loons can contact New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at 271-3361 or the Marine Patrol at 293-2037.

dseufert@newstote.com


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