Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cheers in the New Year

We wanted to take a moment and wish you all a safe and happy New Years. Thank you to all of our volunteers, supporters, colleagues, and friends who help keep LoonWatch and loon conservation vibrant and progressive.

Take care,


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Could Your Birds and Your Oil Be Coming From The Same Place?

When it comes to assessing the true levels of impacts of industrial activities on wildlife, including birds, conservation science has a rather poor track record. Yes, we have the occasional estimate of the number of birds killed from an oil spill or at a radio tower or from a disease outbreak or poisoning event.

All of these are the easy ones.

But what about the hidden impacts from human activities that change vast areas of the earth’s landscape?

It was exactly this question that we decided to answer for a place identified by the U.N. as one of the 100 global hotspots of environmental change—the Boreal Forest of northeastern Alberta underlain by what may be the world’s dirtiest supply of oil in the form of underground tar deposits. Almost all of the oil derived from those deposits is exported for those of us in the U.S. to use for driving our cars and flying commercial aircraft.

Known by industry as the oil sands or tar sands, the future of the Boreal Forest of northeastern Alberta is at the crux of a debate about how much society is willing to give up in return for the quick financial gain represented by unfettered expansion of the tar sands industry.
Already previous work has demonstrated that there is virtual certainty that we will lose the Woodland Caribou of the region. Over the last year we worked on an analysis of the cumulative impacts of current and future tar sands industrial activity on the birds of Alberta’s Boreal Forest. You can click here to see the entire report but here are a few of the key findings.

• Tar sands deposits are underneath about 35 million acres of Boreal forests and wetlands that in pristine condition would support between 22 million and 170 million breeding birds—birds that spend the winter in the backyards, parks, and bays of southern Canada, the U.S., and beyond;
• The Peace-Athabasca Delta just downstream from the tar sands deposits is a globally important wetland complex that regularly hosts hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other waterbirds;
• Strip mining of tar sands deposits is projected to destroy 740,000 acres of Boreal forests and wetlands and cause the loss of up to 3.6 million adult birds and future productivity amounting to 72 million young;
• Extracting oil from most of the 35 million acres of tar sands deposits will require a vast spiderweb of pipelines, roads, compressor stations and other infrastructure. This will eventually destroy more habitat than strip mining and is projected to result in the loss of 14.5 million adult birds. Fragmentation effects could results in the further loss of up to 76 million adult birds;
• Tailings ponds used in the tar sands industrial process are likely killing thousands of birds annually;
• Boreal birds and their habitats in northeastern Alberta and adjoining regions of Saskatchewan are being negatively impacted by airborne and waterborne pollutants and toxins from tar sands industrial operations though we were not able to quantitatively estimate this impact;
• Total cumulative losses of birds from the Boreal Forest of northeastern Alberta as a result of tar sands industrial operations could be as high as 166 million birds.

Next time you fill your gas tank up consider whether you are draining down the reservoir of birds from the Great Bird Nursery—the same birds that you have come to expect will always be there for you to enjoy when they return south from the Boreal.

Click here to see the full report: Danger in the Nursery

What can you do? Go to:

“Save our Boreal Birds” petition:

“Save our Greatest Bird Nursery” by NRDC:

This cross-posting from Boreal Songbird Initiative Boreal Blog by Jeff Wells. The full blog posting is at:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

News Release: California bans Lead Ammunition in Condor Country--Could Wisconsin do the Same for Loons?


For Immediate Release, December 3, 2008

Lead-Free: Settlement Protects California Condors From Toxic Heavy Metal Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council Help Extend Lead-Ammunition Ban to Protect Iconic Birds
LOS ANGELES— A settlement announced today between environmentalists and the State of California will strengthen protections forCalif ornia condors by placing limits on the use of ammunition containing lead throughout the species’ range. Lead ammunition is a significant threat to the big birds because they are likely to scavenge prey that has been shot with the heavy metal. Studies show that the cumulative effect of ingesting lead, a process called bioaccumulation, causes reproductive problems and ultimately death for this majestic and endangered bird of prey. Recent reports show a similar problem for grizzly bears in the northern Rockies.
After the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and other groups filed suit, the state Legislature responded by providing substantial protections for the bird through the Ridley-Tree Condor Conservation Act, which limits the use of lead ammunition throughout much of the condors’ range. Today’s settlement with the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Fish and Game Comm ission extends these protections by eliminating lead ammunition for depredation hunting. The Commission has also agreed to consider prescribing a similar ban on lead ammunition for the hunting of small mammals that are part of the condors’ diet, such as jackrabbits and opossums. The settlement still requires court approval.
“We’re happy that the State of California is taking this positive step to further protect this iconic species,” said Adam Keats, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately, many other species, as well as people, are harmed by lead ammunition every day. So we look forward to working with the state to further these protections and get the lead out of all ammunition.”
“We are all aware of the danger lead poses to humans,” said Damon Nagami, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We’ve taken the lead out of paint. We’ve taken it out of gas. The science co nfirms the same threat to condors, so it was time to offer the same kinds of protection for one of this state’s best conservation stories, the endangered California condor.”
California Condors
North America’s largest species of land birds nearly went extinct in the 1980s and ’90s. Thanks to reintroduction, small populations can now be found near the Grand Canyon; in northern Baja California, Mexico; and in western California. More information is available at:www.savethecondors.org and http://www.nrdc.org/wild life/habitat/esa/california03.asp.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing. www.nrdc.org

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Getting a Lift: Loons have landed in Texas

This morning three loons completed their cross-continental migration from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico. What takes most loons months took these three just two hours—aboard a plane.

Raptor Education Group Inc. (REGI) in Antigo WI was treating the three loons, including the female adult loon from Muskellunge Lake (mentioned below) and two juveniles, for lead poisoning from ingested lead tackle. One of the juveniles also had a deadly bacteria, type E botulism. In their condition, migration would have been out of the question this late in the year. But Marge Gibson and the team at REGI have rehabilitated the loons to where they can be released into the wild and where they have a second chance at living.

At 10 AM the loons boarded a plane in Wausau and by noon they were in Texas. A biologist from US Fish and Wildlife Service brought the loons from the airport to a wildlife refuge on the boarder of Texas and Louisiana. The report that just came in is that they are diving with gusto, calling back and forth, and already feeding.

This story brings hope during a time of international instability and fear. It shows what can happen when people come together. Congrats to all the people who made this possible—citizens, rescue crew, pilot, REGI, biologists, and anyone I’ve missed. BIG THANKS from LoonWatch!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Loon Rescued on Muskellunge Lake, Undergoing Treatment for Lead Poisening

Each year, loons in danger are reported. Some times the loon is able to work its way out of whatever problem it is in--tangled in fishing line, stuck with a lure, or entrapped in other things such as a plastic bag. But if a loon has swallowed lead tackle, there's no way for it to help itself. One lead split shot sinker is lethal, and the loon is helpless as it looses function over its muscles and ability to swim and dive. Loon rescues are complicated and not every loon reported can be helped. It takes a special group of people--typically going above and beyond their regular work duties--to pull off the kind of rescue that happened at Muskellunge Lake in Wisconsin last week.

As the loon became trapped in the ice, concerned citizens, Tom and Ruth Cerull and Bob and Susan Hodkiewicz, tried opening up a take-off strip for the loon by using an aerator. When the aerator wouldn't stay going, they sounded the alarm. The Pickerel Fire and Rescue responded and they did it in a second. They took the lead and Marge Gibson from Raptor Education Group Inc. came to bring the loon back to her rehabilitation center in Antigo, WI. The above picture captures the moment just after rescue. Once at the rehabilitation center, Gibson was able to confirm that the loon had lead poisening. Even if Tom and Bob had been able to open up the ice, it's unlikely the loon could have flown because of its condition.

The rescued female loon is 9 lbs. and stands a good chance at recovery as long as the lead sinker can be removed. The report from Gibson is that she has a rather large sinker in her stomach that is high up in the digestive system (shown on the x-ray). She has a high blood lead level. The only hope is to get the lead out of her before she becomes toxic. Gibson is trying mineral oil to get it to pass, but surgery might be required.

Marge Gibson and Raptor Education Group Inc. rehabilitate loons, swans, eagles and many other bird species that have accidently eaten lead tackle while feeding. Several trumpeter swans and two other loon are at the center right now undergoing treatment for lead poisening. For those of us who don't see the devestation in person, it can be easy to forget that lead tackle is toxic and kills wildlife. The hope for these birds is not just to recover, but for anglers to change their ways and use alternatives to lead tackle. There's many ways to get involved and help to promote lead-free tackle in your community and nation wide . Contact Loonwatch at mailto:loonwatch@northland.edu for more information.