June 11, 2013

For the Love of Loons by Jon Bolduc

Little Sebago Lake, the younger sibling of Sebago Lake, (nicknamed "Big Sebago") has been my home for the past five years. From my front window, I see a cove that opens up to a sparkling expanse of water. Trees coat the shoreline, patches of lilypads hover on the placid surface. Boats gently rocked by the mid-morning breeze cradle back and forth.

I’m privileged to have a front row seat in the many minor happenings that make up nature like painted turtles sunbathing on a partly submerged log. This is my home.

According to the organization Audubon that conducts yearly "loon counts" on Maine lakes, 21 adult Loons also called Little Sebago home in 2011. But in late April, one loon in particular caught the attention of local residents.

“We had a loon that was challenged with fishing line around its beak, and around its head,” said Pam Wilkinson, head of the Little Sebago Lake Association.

“People noticed it for a week or two, but really felt kind of helpless about what to do. Finally, there was a gentleman called T.J. Goth who found the bird close to shore, and obviously weak. He waded out into the cold water and grabbed the loon.”

“He untied the fishing line, this great big round ball of line. The loon swam off, and was free,” said Wilkinson.

According to a local resident, it wasn’t long before the loon was healthy again; soon after the rescue, the loon was observed gobbling up the catch of the day.

“The loon is healthy, and he is flourishing,” said Wilkinson.

“It is a success story, for sure,” said Wilkinson.

Although this situation had a happy ending, many situations involving loons and tackle do not. Lead poisoning from jigs and tackle are the leading cause of death, and a bill entitled “LD 730 An Act to Protect Maine Loons by Banning Lead Sinkers and Jigs,” is currently circulating in legislature.

A combination of their striking appearance and presence most likely contributes to the loon’s status as a cultural icon. On Little Sebago, sometimes it seems like the loons are as interested in us as we are in them.

"Even if your kayaking, they'll pop up beside you. They're not threatened, it doesn't feel like they're threatened at all. They've gotten acclimated to the people and as long as the people respect them, give them their distance, and don't challenge them, we can co-exist pretty well," said Wilkinson.

Long before the loon is seen, his call is heard. For most Mainers, the mere mention of the loon conjures a deeply embedded sensory memory. The memory of a night shattering, shrill, ethereal cry that is as haunting as it is beautiful and as ingrained in Maine's culture as lobster, or L.L Bean.

“I think that the call of the loon at night is embedded in people’s memories,” said Wilkinson.

As a native Mainer, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when I first heard the call of the loon. My grandparents live on Little Sebago Lake, and as a child I spent many summer days and nights on the water. I could never figure out how to do loon calls with my hand, so I settled for a snorkel. It was realistic enough to laugh about.

One day, a loon called back. I made contact.

The iconic long, haunting cry- the wail- is the loon's way of asking "where are you?" I inadvertently asked this prehistoric animal where he was, and he responded, assuming I was one of his kind, perhaps a life-mate.

In that moment, like many Mainer’s before me, I had fallen in love with the loon, and his call.
“It’s just a calming type message we all get in the summertime,” said Wilkinson.

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