Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Good news and some bad news from the loon preservation front

STACEY COLE December 13. 2013 10:35PM

There was both good and bad news about New Hampshire's loon population as recorded in the fall issue of the "Loon Preservation Committee News Letter." The good news, although barely so, read: "The recovery of the New Hampshire loon population inched forward in 2013, with the number of occupied territories increasing by just 1%, from 280 to 284."

The bad news? "In spite of intensive management, we saw the fourth worst year of breeding success in 38 years of monitoring. Across the state, 63% (180) of the territorial pairs (male and female loons displaying a pair bond and defending a territory for at least four weeks) attempted nesting. Fifty-eight percent of these nesting pairs were successful. We recorded 98 nest failures and 23 re-nests. Seventy-five percent of hatched chicks survived through mid-August, the end of routine monitoring. All of these nesting statistics were lower than average; fewer loon pairs hatched chicks, and the survival of loon chicks was reduced. These rates combined to produce an end-of-season tally of 118 chicks from the 284 territorial pairs, or 0.42 chicks surviving per pair.

"We saw a high share of flooded and predated nests, which were 30% and 26% above the long-term average, as a proportion of all nests. The summer weather continued what has become a familiar pattern in recent years: June 2013 was the tenth wettest year on record, and July was the tenth warmest. Over the last decade New Hampshire has received more rain in June than in any other decade on record, and July temperatures have been 2-3 degrees F warmer than average for the last four years. We will have to wait and see whether this summer pattern becomes the new normal as the climate changes. For now, the 2013 season showed that for the shoreline nests of loons, the current weather regime spells trouble.

"On the positive side, record levels of management played a part in mitigating the effects of a lean year. LPC volunteers, staff and partners floated a record number of nest rafts, 92, with active nests on 35 of those rafts hatching 21% (33) of all chicks. These included two active nests on rafts floated by the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, a welcome first for that program. Around the state, signs were floated at 83 territories (including many of the raft nest sites) covering 43% (67) of the hatched chicks.

"In addition to rafts and signs we continued water level outreach to dam operators, covering 155 occupied territories. This outreach addressed territories where an additional 26 chicks hatched. Two of these chicks came from Franklin Pierce Lake in Hillsboro, where close volunteer monitoring and cooperation from Public Service of New Hampshire insured stable water levels during nesting, and we saw the first successful hatch on the lake since the beginning of formal surveys in the 1970s.

"2013 marked the fifth straight season that territories with signs or rafts accounted for almost half of all chicks hatched. Overall, including water level outreach, two-thirds of all chicks hatched this year came from territories that received one or more of these three forms of management. Funding for this record level of management came from LPC's Loon Recovery Plan."

Contributions to assist in this important work should be forwarded to: Loon Preservation Committee, P.O. Box 604, 183 Lee's Mills Road, Moultonborough, N.H. 03254.

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One of my favorite winter birds is the snow bunting. The flight patterns of these winter visitors has been likened by some to that of snowflakes. On a stormy winter's day I especially enjoy their erratic and sometimes whimsical behavior.

Edward Howe Forbush, in his "Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States," captured these birds perfectly when he wrote: "When winter really comes to New England, when icy blasts sweep down from the north and snow fills the air and whitens fields and pasture, these little birds ride down on wintry winds and whirl about the fields amid the driving snow. As they wheel and turn in concert, their brown backs and black-tipped wings veer and careen about amid the snowflakes until, with a sudden swing, they turn their white under sides toward us and disappear in the snow-filled air, only to reappear as the next turn brings their backs to our view. Having swung back and forth and from side to side, and viewed their landfall from every vantage point, they glide toward the earth, alight in a patch of weeds or tall grass that projects above the snow, and running along from plant to plant, help themselves to the well-ripened seeds. While thus occupied they are always moving along over the surface of the snow, running rapidly, walking and ever hopping, or jumping."

Look for snow buntings this winter!

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.

Nature Talks

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