September 15, 2023

Volunteers indispensable part of Annual Loon Census

By Steve Craine
Raymond Waterways Protective Association

On July 15, more than 1,500 volunteers across southern Maine were out on the water at 7 a.m. for the annual loon census, including dozens in our region. Maine supports the largest loon population of any state in the northeast, and the census has been conducted under the auspices of Maine Audubon since 1983.

A loon sits on a nest at Panther Pond during the Annual Loon
Census conducted by Maine Audubon with volunteers from
the Raymond Protective Waterways Association in July. A
total of 22 loons and 5 chicks were observed on Raymond
lakes this year by RWPA members. SUBMITTED PHOTO    
Elwood “Woody” Beach, a longtime Board member of Raymond Waterways Protection Association, is a 30-year veteran of this impressive feat of citizen science. He served for many years as coordinator of area 2A, which includes about 30 lakes in Cumberland County. This role is now in the hands of Lisa Jones, who, like Woody Beach, lives on Raymond Pond.

This year, Woody, his daughter Linda Bible, and her husband Marty were in his boat from 7 to 7:30 a.m. that morning surveying the northern half of Raymond Pond, where they spotted a pair of adults and one chick. At the same time, Lisa was covering the south half of the lake and reported sighting three adult loons.

Mid-July was chosen to conduct the loon census because chicks that survive that long are most likely to make it to adulthood, Beach said. By autumn, this year’s chicks will be able to migrate on their own to waters that will not freeze, either the ocean or southern lakes.

“One half hour is long enough to get an accurate count,” Beach said. “You probably have noticed that early in the morning the loons are not moving around or diving very much so they are easy to spot.”

Volunteers on each lake decide how many people are needed to cover the area. One of the area coordinator’s responsibilities is to be sure each lake has enough volunteers ready to go on the third Saturday of July.

In advance of the census, Maine Audubon sends volunteers detailed maps showing exactly where they should count. Last year’s totals, from about 360 lakes and ponds south of the 45th parallel, were 3,050 adults and nearly 300 chicks. Many northern lakes, which support many more loons, have been surveyed by air.

This year the lakes and ponds in Raymond hosted 22 adults and 5 chicks including Panther Pond (8 adults/2 chicks); Crescent Lake (6/1); Thomas Pond (3/1); and Raymond Pond 5/1). This compares with 25 adults and 4 chicks in July 2022.

The count on Sebago Lakes has not yet been published, but last year volunteers reported 32 adults and one chick there.

Beach explained that with numbers so small it isn’t really possible to speak of trends, as there are always ups and downs. Statewide in Maine, the numbers counted have doubled since 1983, but it is hard to tell if this merely reflects the growing numbers of volunteers and lakes surveyed.

Raymond Waterways Protective Association is dedicated to preserving the quality of Raymond lakes and streams for people and wildlife. If all users of the town’s waterways succeed in keeping our lakes healthy, they will continue to provide good loon habitats.

The loons, with their striking appearance, fascinating behavior, and haunting cries, are iconic of the north woods and one of the things that keep drawing us back to the lakes year after year.
According to Conservation Biologist Tracy Hart, who runs the annual count for Maine Audubon, the annual count plays a critical role in raising loon awareness in Maine.

“Our loon counters often choose to become loon ambassadors on their lake or pond, helping to get the word out about fishing lead free to reduce loon lead poisoning, or traveling more slowly near loons and reducing boat wake to reduce collisions with boats or eggs being washed out of nests by wakes,” Hart said. <

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