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May 24. 2014 10:22PM

Biologists shocked endangered loons killed in Gilford and Dover

MOULTONBOROUGH - Loon Preservation Committee biologists and staff were surprised and angry to learn that two adult male loons, which are an endangered and protected species, were shot in Dover and Gilford last week.

The birds were shot on consecutive days with different caliber bullets, so it's most likely there were different shooters involved, said LPC Senior Biologist and Executive Director Harry Vogel.

But the shootings shook the LPC staff, which works tirelessly with volunteers every year to preserve the state's current 284 pairs of loons.

"It's apparently open season on loons," he said. "It's not hunting season, and neither bird was shot with bird-shot. And we have just 284 pairs of them; that's not a lot of birds."

On Tuesday, Fish and Game was notified that a loon had been found wounded in a field near the Cocheco River in Dover. The bird had been hit in the abdomen on Monday, but the wound was not fatal, said Vogel.

It was found by workers at a nearby animal shelter, he said.

"The loon in Dover was rehabilitated and was able to be released back into the wild," Vogel said, explaining that the bullet was lodged near the bird's shoulder.

That loon had a tracking band on it, so LPC officials will be able to follow its progress.

"It may still die," Vogel said. "It was determined that it was safer to leave the bullet in the bird than to try and remove it."Later on Tuesday, Fish and Game officials were called to the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Gilford near Varney Point. A loon was found dead there of a gunshot wound, authorities said."That loon had been shot on Tuesday and was dead," Vogel said.

Both incidents are being investigated by Fish and Game conservation officers and an officer from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The common loon is protected by both state and federal law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In New Hampshire, loons are considered a threatened species, and it is a misdemeanor to injure or shoot a loon or attempt to do so. Vogel doesn't think the shootings, which happened miles apart, are connected.

LPC volunteers were saddened to find a third loon dead last week in Wentworth Lake, this one killed by ingesting a lead fishing jig, Vogel said. Lead fishing jigs were just outlawed by the state, but the law doesn't take effect until 2016.

Vogel urged people to stop using lead jigs now. "The volunteers had to sit there and watch as the loon writhed and went through its death throes," Vogel said. "If that jig had not been lead, that loon would be happily living somewhere."

Members of the Loon Preservation Committee, a statewide organization of biologists and volunteers, spend much of their time each summer creating safe nesting and breeding sites. Their efforts have helped the loon population stabilize after a period of decline.

"It's very discouraging," Vogel said. "We've managed to keep the loon population about level over the years, and then things like this happen."Anyone with information about the shootings can call Fish and Game dispatch at 271-3361 or Operation Game Thief at 1-800-344-4262 or go to www.huntnh.com/OGT. Callers may choose to remain anonymous.

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Union Leader staff writer Shawne K. Wickham contributed to this report.



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