MOULTONBOROUGH – For more than 40 years, the Loon Preservation Committee has undertaken statewide monitoring, research, management and outreach to preserve the iconic birds that have come to symbolize the spirit of the wild.
On Saturday, the group hosted its annual Loon Festival and continued its efforts to educate people about how they can help the threatened birds survive and thrive.
Aided by a large grassroots network of more than 1,500 members and volunteer “Loon Rangers” the committee monitors the number and breeding success of loons to identify trends and areas of concerns.
Between 8 and 9 a.m. on Saturday, their seven members staff of biologists teamed up with volunteers to conduct their annual loon census, information that will be analyzed and reported this fall.
Owen Brennick, a field biologist in the Seacoast reion said this year’s hatch of loon chicks was on par with last year. The nesting rate has increased, but in most cases only one of two eggs incubated by a mated pair hatched.
Harry Vogel the LPC’s Executive Director and senior biologist said while they were concerned that the heat would cool attendance, the crowds came, found respite from the heat under shady tents and enjoyed free ice cream.
While temperatures peaked at 93 degrees with 46 percent humidity, volunteers with the Meredith Rotary Club manned the grill and served up plenty of hot dogs.
The dunk tank proved to be a popular attraction for youngsters, who if they correctly answered true or false questions about loons had the chance to throw a ball and if they hit the target enjoy watching a staff biologist plunge into the water below.
As part of their comprehensive loon recovery plan, the LPC bands some birds to study their life history.
Brennick told youngsters, the oldest known loon is 32-years-old, and is still nesting, and laying eggs.
While the LPCs mission is to restore and maintain a healthy population of loons throughout the state, their work has a ripple effect by promoting a greater understanding of the natural world and helping other species that depend on clean water and quiet places.
As part of their work, LPC biologists band loons and take a blood sample for testing. Eating a diet almost entirely of fish, loons are good indicators of the health of the environment and the threat posed by mercury and other “legacy contaminants.”
Loons don’t breed until they are six or seven years old and then typically lay just two eggs when they nest. Despite intense management, Vogel said, the population is only half way back to historical numbers. Currently, nine out of every 10 loon chicks that come into the world get a helping hand from LPC.
The best boost the general public can give to loons, Vogel said, is to give them space.
“The only way you should get close is with a good pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens.