From Tiffany Grade, Loon Preservation Committee Squam Lake Project Biologist
Good news! Another pair of loons went on the nest on Big Squam this week!
We now have three pairs nesting on the Big Lake, with several other pairs checking out potential nest sites. The pair on Little Squam is also inspecting sites for a second nesting attempt and doing some tentative nest-building, but they have still not settled down yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the next week or two will bring several more nesting pairs! In the meantime, I'm happy that the pairs currently on the nest are doing so well, albeit needing to pant a lot to keep cool in the warm temperatures we've been having.
During the last two weeks in our "Meet the Loons of Squam" series, we've visited loons for which we have a lot of information as a result of LPC's banding efforts. This week, we're turning to a pair that we can only speculate about--the pair occupying Squaw and Rattlesnake Coves. These coves used to be separate loon territories, with a pair of loons occupying each cove, but the territories merged in 2006 and one pair of loons has used both coves ever since. The last banded loon in these territories was a male, who was banded in 2006 and remained in these coves through 2010.
Sadly, in 2010, he became tangled in fishing line in late July and LPC's best efforts to rescue him failed. He spent the remainder of the summer in Cotton Cove and sometimes on Little Squam, leaving the female to raise their four-week-old chick. He has not been seen since 2010 and is presumed deceased.
But this sad story does have at least one happy part, which brings us (maybe!) to our present pair. The female loon heroically defended her chick against the many male loons that tried to take over the territory in the absence of the resident male. Had they done so, they likely would have killed the chick, as is normal for loons in territory takeovers.
Every time I visited the territory, she was fighting off much larger male loons. Somehow, she pulled it off and her chick successfully fledged. LPC decided not to band this female, not wanting to put even slightly more pressure on her when she was fighting for her chick's life, so we do not know whether the unbanded female in Squaw/Rattlesnake Coves now is the same bird. But when I see her, I always think of that courageous female and wonder...
The current male loon in the pair took over the territory last year, evicting the former unbanded male. This male has a single silver band on one leg, possibly indicating he was banded as a chick. (Chicks often receive only a silver band, as opposed to the normal set of three colored bands plus one silver band). Until we are able to capture this loon and read the number on the band, we won't know his history. The present pair in Squaw Cove has already had a nest failure this year, due to predation by a mammal (see attached picture of the pair taken right after their nest failure). I am hoping that they will re-nest soon!
This pair demonstrates the critical importance of banding to LPC's research efforts on Squam and throughout the state. Without banding these loons, we can only speculate. Whereas I could tell you a lot about the movements and productivity of the banded loons we met the past two weeks, I can only wonder if the present Squaw/Rattlesnake female is the one who beat the odds and was strong enough to battle off the larger males to defend her chick. As for the male, I am eager for the opportunity to learn his history. We can learn so much about these loons from banding, information which helps us conserve the species.
If you are looking for something fun, educational, and loony to do with guests visiting you at the lake this summer, you might consider going on a Loon Cruise! For the last six years, LPC has been partnering with the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center to offer trips on the lake focused on seeing and learning about loons. Trips go out in the Science Center's comfy pontoon boats with one of their naturalists, and I am on board to narrate the trip and take guests to the best spots to see loons on Squam.
Loon cruises are Monday and Friday afternoons at 3:00 from now through August 29th. For more information, please visit http://www.nhnature.org/programs/loon_cruise.php.
Feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns, or reports, and please visit www.loon.org to learn more about loons. Thank you for your interest in Squam's loons!