From Tiffany Grade, LPC Squam Lake Project Biologist
I have some *wonderful* news to report this week--we have two chicks on the lake!!! Our first chicks of the year (both in one family) hatched last weekend, surprisingly about 2-3 days early. Typical incubation for loons is 28 days, although slightly shorter and slightly longer incubation times have been recorded. This family is definitely at the low end of recorded incubation times, but they are no worse for the short incubation--the family is doing very well!
Unfortunately we did lose one of the nests this week (see below)--once again, a mammal made a meal of the egg. Fortunately, the other nests are continuing to do well, and we have a pair that is in the process of initiating a nest. Counting this new nest, this gives us four active nests on Big Squam, plus the family with two chicks, and one active nest on Little Squam. Another one of the Big Squam nests is due to hatch this week, so hopefully I'll be reporting on more chicks next week!
Obviously this convergence of chicks and nests with the holiday weekend is always a source of concern for LPC. Please ask your neighbors, renters, and other lake users to stay at least 150 feet away from loons and loon families and to respect the roped/signed areas. We need to allow the loons to focus on taking care of themselves and their chicks/nests without worrying about a boat approaching too closely. Collisions from powerboats and jetskis are the second leading cause of known chick mortality, while the close approach of canoes and kayaks can prevent the loons from focusing on caring for and feeding their chicks, resulting in the starvation of the younger loon chick. The 150 ft rule is a good rule of thumb which should allow the loons to go about their normal behaviors.
Boaters should always back away if the loons show signs of stress, swim away, or change their behavior. I've attached a pdf of LPC's brochure explaining loon behaviors. The brochure is intended to be a tri-fold, so please pardon it if it looks a little odd in pdf format! Please feel free to print this and distribute it to neighbors or renters.
Our "Meet the Loons of Squam" series this week is a bit of a sequel to last week's visit to Piper Cove. As you may recall, the female that is presently part of the pair at Piper was formerly at Perch Island, so we'll visit Perch this week to close the loop on these two territories. The male at Perch Island was banded in 2007, along with the female currently at Piper. They were together from 2007-2012, produced the only surviving chick on the lake in 2007, hatched one chick each year in 2008-2009 (although neither of these chicks survived), and nested unsuccessfully in 2010-2011 (failures due to predation by a mammal and human disturbance respectively). After the pair did not nest in 2012, a new female took over the territory in 2013 and joined the resident male. The male and the new female did not nest in 2013, which is not surprising as it is typical for loon pairs not to nest the first year or two that they are together.
This likely allows the new pair member the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the territory before adding the responsibility of nesting/chick-rearing. The new female in Perch is unbanded, so we do not know her history or where she came from.
With a year of experience in the Perch Island territory together, the pair settled down to nest this year. Unfortunately, they were forced to abandon their first nest after laying a single egg, likely victims (as other loon pairs were this year) of the hordes of black flies this spring.
Black flies can force loons to abandon nests by making it unbearable to sit amid these buzzing bugs, and (unbelievably but true) there is a species of black fly that specializes on loon blood. As usual, LPC collected this abandoned loon egg, which will become a candidate for contaminant testing to further our research into the challenges facing the loons on Squam. The pair's second nesting attempt failed just this past week, this time due to predation by a mammal. It was very disappointing to see these nest failures, but it certainly wasn't for lack of effort by the pair. Since LPC banded the male in 2007, he has been very persistent in his nesting efforts, and I'm hoping for better things for the pair next year.
I wish everyone a very happy and safe 4th of July, and I hope it will be a safe holiday weekend for Squam's loons as well! As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any reports or concerns. Thank you for your interest in Squam's loons!
Squam Lake Project Biologist
Loon Preservation Committee