"The Call of the Loon"

From the Elk Rapids News (May 05, 2011) by Teresa O’Hara, Contributing Writer

The loons’ distinctive call is heard around lakes across northern Michigan during the summer months. The ElkSkegemog Lakes Association, in conjunction with the Chain of Lakes LOON NETWORK held a well attended meeting on Tuesday, April 26th in Elk Rapids. The two groups met to discuss the lack of loon nesting on both lakes. Serious loon enthusiasts braved the stormy weather that evening to attend and Thom Yocum, Environmental Protector Director of the ElkSkegemog Lakes Association and Audubon member, declared, “the loons are back and this is loon weather.”

Peg Comfort, LOON NETWORK Project Coordinator, said the purpose of the meeting is intended to “strengthen advocacy efforts for people who care about loons.” Loons are born here in northern Michigan but then travel south for the winter. Peg says essentially “loons are ocean birds that come north to reproduce.” You can identify loons from other similar species, such as Mergansers, by the fact that loons float deeper in the water than most water fowl. Loons have a long black beak that tapers off, a white chest and they will dive, not fly, when you approach them.

The LOON NETWORK is studying nesting problems on Elk Lake and Lake Skegemog and needs area volunteers to help in the research. Nesting sites are important to the reproduction of the loon. Although they prefer island nesting, they have some success with shoreline nests, utilizing muskrat lodges, and artificially created nests. Loons don’t actually build a nest like most birds. Their method is to form a depression out of gravel and twigs they scrape together, amongst a few reeds. LOON NETWORK has a number of opportunities for loon lovers in northern Michigan to help ensure successful nesting. Loon Scouts and Rangers are trained to observe and report on nesting spots and where the territories are. Scouts are basically observers while Rangers take a more proactive role by observing nesting sites, placing and maintaining artificial nests and dealing with distressed or harassed birds. Nesting is a tricky business and loons don’t readily take to a nest. Linda O’Meara, former Michigan Loon Preservation Association board member and Loon Ranger Coordinator for Lake Bellaire, was in attendance to relate her insights and exclaimed nesting is a lot of “trial and error.” Nesting sites, chicks and adult loons face a number of predators, including humans, snapping turtles and large fish. Loons are pretty fussy, if their nesting site is approached or disturbed, they may abandon the site, resulting in lower population numbers. Ms. O’Meara stated that loons are “a threatened species, protected by State and Federal laws.”

This year’s goal of the LOON NETWORK on Elk Lake and Lake Skegemog, is to find out why there has been no successful nesting on the lakes by locating nesting territories and how many loon pairs exist to get a better idea of their natural nesting locations. The network is also active in research involving banded loons. It’s their hope that more homeowners along the shores of Elk and Skegemog will participate either as an observing Scout or Ranger. Through research and observation, they’ve found that these two lakes have the lowest nesting success in the area. The network uses simple forms that make it easy for loon lovers to record their observations.

The LOON NETWORK is holding a musical benefit on Saturday, June 25th at the Old Town Hall in Elk Rapids. Tickets will be available in advance at a number of locations in Elk Rapids, Alden and Bellaire. Proceeds for the event will go toward educational signs, plus support research. For more information about the event or to volunteer, contact Peg Comfort at (231) 6760566.