Loon Survey Results at Madge Lake:
Reason for Optimism
By Rob Wilson
In 2001 a study was conducted at Long Island Lake (north of Westlock, Alberta). This study, conducted by James Martin, revealed that the size and frequency of waves, generated by wakes has increased to a level that is swamping and destroying nests of loons and grebes.
FACT: Loons and grebes nest on the water or against the shore since they are very ungainly on land. The same sites are often used from year to year. Usually 2 eggs are laid. Both parents help with incubation which is usually 26 – 31 days.
Is increasing human activity on and around Madge Lake having a negative impact on the nesting success of the Common Loon? That was the question asked by the Yellowhead Flyway Birding Trail Association (YFBTA) in 2004. As they attempted to find out, YFBTA was surprised to learn that Saskatchewan Environment does not monitor the loon population on Madge Lake. Consequently YFBTA provided the funding to have Madge Lake enrolled in the Canadian Lakes Loon (CLL) Survey.
FACT: Loons live 15 – 30 years.
Madge Lake was surveyed three times in 2005. The final survey conducted August 18 indicated 50 adult birds and 4 juveniles.
FACT: Loons symbolize wilderness and solitude.
Loons nest in the grass along the shores of a lake making them vulnerable to waves from water vehicles. Photo by Oney Pollock
YFBTA funded the CLL Survey again in 2006. This time the lake was monitored more extensively. The surveys were conducted by Raymond Lacusta, Rob Wilson, Barb Elsasser, Margaret Graham and Bob Graham.
FACT: Territorial loons are regularly associated with a particular portion of the lake and will display territorial behaviour such as “yodel” calls. During the months of May, June and July if you see two adults together you can assume they are a pair.
Survey # 1 Madge Lake May 17, 2006
Single adult loons 9
Loon pairs 9
Total adults 27
As a result of extensive monitoring Bob and Margaret Graham believe that there were five nesting pairs of loons on Madge Lake during the summer.
FACT: Both male and female loons look the same.
Survey # 2 Madge Lake July 16, 2006
Single adult loons 22
Paired adults (no chicks) 6
Paired adults ( 1 chick) 1
Paired adults ( 2 chicks) 3
Single adult ( 1 chick) 0
Single adult ( 2 chicks) 2
Total adults 44
Total chicks 9
FACT: Loons can fly at an average speed of 120 km/hour during migration
Survey # 3 Madge Lake August 18, 2006
Single adult loons 17
Paired adults (no juveniles) 7
Paired adults ( 1 juvenile) 2
Paired adults ( 2 juveniles) 1
Single adult ( 1 juvenile) 1
Single adult ( 2 juveniles) 2
Total adults 39
Total juveniles 9
Note: This survey corresponds closely to the estimates of juveniles given by Bob and Margaret who also observed 9 juveniles in August. On Sept. 13 Bob Graham observed 7 juveniles in a group on Madge Lake. On this date it appeared that the adults had left Madge Lake to begin the fall migration.
FACT: At the time of migration the adults generally leave first, with the young following soon after.
YFBTA is delighted to note that it appears that a pair of juveniles were raised in Ranger Bay. Until 2006 juvenile loons had not been produced in Ranger Bay for a number of years. We are also encouraged to note that the number of juveniles has increased from 4 in 2005 to 9 in 2006.
FACT: Chicks hatch towards the end of June. They can swim right away but cannot dive well. Chicks spend some time on their parents’ backs to rest, conserve heat and avoid predators (large fish, gulls, eagles, ospreys, crows).
The YFBTA has a loon initiatives committee. We would be most grateful if regular visitors to Madge Lake would join our association and would serve on our loon committee to assist us with the monitoring of the chicks and juveniles produced. If interested, visit our website (www.yfbta.com) and make contact with us.
FACT: The Common Loon is susceptible to the effects of pollution, development and distrurbance. Historic data show that loons have abandoned some of their former nesting areas in the southern parts of Canada and northern areas of the central United States. Loss of breeding habitat and disturbance are probably the cause. Acid rain, a new threat in Saskatchewan, affects fish which in turn can result in starvation of young. Acidification of lakes may increase the rate of release of mercury which can accumulate in loons as they are near the top of the food chain.
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