Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Droughts Drain Northern Lakes

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports about in this article about the low water levels and dry forests that we're seeing in Northern Wisconsin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Loon Migration

Much is still unknown about loon migration. Through the use of telemetry and color bands we have found that most of the loons in the midwest stage on the great lakes, mainly Lake Michigan, and then migrate down to the Gulf of Mexico. However, there is a small population that goes off the coast of the Carolinas too. The adults migrate first, usually 2-3 months after their chicks hatch so that their offspring are capable of surviving on their own, although adults will start their migration earlier if they fail to raise young. The chicks don't leave until nearly ice over. Exactly how they know where to go is still a mystery. While loons do not migrate in flocks, they usually congregate in large groups on staging lakes for their migration in order to hunt in a group, which increases their chances for getting a meal.
Once on the ocean, loons are able to adapt to living in salt water by using a salt gland that extracts the salt from the water and excretes it from ducts in the loon's beak. Loons also group together on the ocean in order to hunt better.
Loons start heading back to their breeding lakes as early as March, but won't actuallyarrive on their breeding lake until ice out, prefering to stay on staging lakes farther south until that time.

To see data on the first sightings of loons across the country, please visit http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/Sightings_All.html.
To see satellite tracking of loons, please visit http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/terrestrial/migratory_birds/loons/migrations.html.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Eagle Scout Project

I am a high school senior living in a small suburb, Acton, west of Boston. As a Boy Scout, I recently began working on my Eagle Scout Project. After discussing an idea or two with the Natural Resources director of my town, I was given the idea of building loon nesting platforms for Nagog Pond, which lies between Acton and Littleton. This was something that an adult leader in my troop and the Natural Resources director of my town had been discussing for quite some time and were very interested in seeing happen. I also like the idea very much and found a lot of inspiration searching the internet for platforms designs.

My entire project consisted of not only leading fellow Scouts to construct the two platforms, but also researching and creating a plan for the building of the platforms and holding a fundraising effort to raise money for the materials needed. I then placed them on Nagog Pond with the help of Acton’s Natural Resources director and a representative from the Department of Water for Concord in Massachusetts.

The whole idea behind loon nesting platforms is that they float upon the water in lakes where loons are seen but no natural nesting locations exist, often because they have been destroyed by human interference. Thus the loons build their nests and hatch their young upon these platforms, safe from terrestrial predators. The birds must feel safe from other disturbances as well in order to nest on the platforms, so they are placed near the shore, in shallow water, and in areas with little disturbance from humans, sun, or wind. Taking all this into consideration, I also had to build the platforms to last since they would receive little maintenance, being an Eagle Scout Project. Nagog Pond is also a water reservoir, so any materials had to be safe and approved by the representative from the Concord Department of Water.

To best fit these needs, I built the platforms using PVC pipe to create a three-foot square frame, connected to a baseboard. Special modifications using liberal amounts of PVC glue and latex caulk were taken to ensure that the frames would not leak. After fitting the piping together, the frame was painted brown to better camouflage the platforms. The baseboard was constructed of a two-inch thick layer of insulation foam board wrapped in landscape fabric and plastic snow fencing to prevent chunks from breaking off into the water. A special feature of the platform is the chick ramps, which consist of a section of fire hose with one end wrapped around the PVC and the other trailing off into the water nailed to a wooden block for flotation. The chick ramps were designed so that baby loons could easily get back up onto the platforms. Lastly, sod was laid and secured on top of the platforms to provide a more comfortable nesting surface for the loons. When placed in the water, cinderblock anchors tied to the platforms at opposite ends kept them in place.

My hope for this project is that loons will find the platforms a suitable place to hatch their young. Loons have been known to migrate through the area and conserving the bird’s place in the ecosystem is very important. This would boost the ecological diversity of the town which is measured annually and help preserve the relatively natural state of Nagog Pond, a state which is sought by the Concord Department of Water.
For more information about artificial nesting platforms please visit

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Death of a Lake

For hundreds of years Walker Lake has been a fresh water sanctuary for thousands of breeding and migrating birds, including over 1000 loons amid the deserts of Nevada. Within the past 100 years, Nevada's growing population has diverted more and more water from Walker Lake until now it is less than a quarter of its historical size. Not only does this mean that there is less habitat for the birds and fish that need Walker Lake to survive, but it also means an increase in the lake's salinity levels, degrading the remaining habitat until it is now unlivable for many species. This is most noticeable in the disappearance of Walker Lake's loon population. For the past 15 years the Walker Lake Working Group has put on an annual loon festival at Walker Lake over the summer. This year they were forced to cancel that festival due to a lack of loons. This is not only a bad thing for all of the people who enjoy going to see loons in Nevada, but it is also a bad sign for the entire ecosystem of the lake.

Loons are considered an excellent indicator of the overall health of lakes that they are found on. This is because loons are long-lived and at the top of the food chain, making them vary sensitive to pollutants in the water. Being a top predator, loons also signify that there are plenty of fish in a lake, which also signifies a healthy lake. The fact that so many loons used to visit Walker Lake but all have disappeared is ominous indeed. Ther is hope however. Nevada's 2 US senators co-sponsored a bill to give $70 million to the Nevada System of Higher Education to study the effects of diverting water from Walker Lake. While this is going on, the University of Nevada, Reno and the Desert Research Institute are just finishing their 2-year study determining the best way to supply water to Walker Lake and improve its water quality while sustaining the economies of the communities that depend on its water.

For more information about Walker Lake, please visit http://www.walkerlake.org/ or call (775) 573-2581.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Walker Lake Education Day

For the past fifteen years the Walker Lake Working Group has sponsored the annual Loon Festival on Walker Lake in Nevada. This year, due to the decline of the lake level and the absence of significant numbers of loons, the Loon Festival has been canceled. In its place the Working Group, and other supportive groups and organizations, will be sponsoring an Education Day at the lake. This will be held on April 25, 2009 at the State Beach recreation area in the town of Walker Lake. Planned activities include:

-Free boat rides to view local wildlife (weather dependent)
-Native American dancing
-Food and other vendors
-Upland activities and tours featuring natural history and wildlife
-Possible showing of a “Wild and Scenic Film Festival”
-Educational booths staffed by various organizations and agencies working on the restoration and preservation of the lake
-Other possible events

The purpose of the event is to bring people to the lake to see what a magnificent jewel is being lost to the citizens of Nevada and to educate them on what can and what needs to be done to restore and preserve this gem. Significant resources in terms of time, effort, and dollars are being expended to bring this event to fruition. What is still needed is people to assist with the final planning and to provide expertise and help on the day of the event. If you would like to learn more or to volunteer you can attend the Working Group meeting on Wednesday, 18 February at 6:30 p.m. in the county commission chambers or you may call Lou Thompson at 573-2581.

Check in tomorrow for more information about Walker Lake and its plight.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Loon Appreciation Week

Every spring, people throughout North America honor one of our most charismatic wild birds during Loon Appreciation Week. Held the first full week in May, this celebration of the Common Loon is marked locally by loon presentations at birding festivals across North America as well as the nationwide distribution of an artistic and educational poster by the LoonWatch program of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute in Ashland. The poster and workshops provide information about the preservation of loons to the people who enjoy them, and instill wonder for this fascinating bird.

This years Loon Appreciation Week poster features a photograph of a nesting loon taken by nature photographer Peter Hawkins. Hawkins will be signing the posters at the May 12-17 Spring Migration Celebration in Duluth and at the Walker Artists and Crafters Mall on May 22, from 1 to 6 p.m. in Walker, Min.. The posters will be given away free at both events. Hawkins received his B.A. from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif., but has spent most of his adult life in northern Minnesota working to inspire a desire for preservation through his photography. His website, which includes photographs and a biography, is https://mail.northland.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.phawkinsphoto.com. If you would like a free Loon Appreciation Week poster, contact the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at (715) 682-1223 or loonwatch@northland.edu.

In Wisconsin and Minnesota, residents will have an opportunity to attend loon programs during the month of May. On Sunday, May 9, LoonWatch will offer an introductory Loon Ranger Workshop in Spooner, Wis. This is the 31st year LoonWatch has coordinated volunteers, known as Loon Rangers, on more than 350 lakes to monitor loon activity and reproductive success. This training will equip individuals with the tools necessary to monitor loons on Wisconsin lakes. For more information, contact LoonWatch at (715) 682-1220 or loonwatch@northland.edu.

In Duluth, the LoonWatch posters will be given away in conjunction with a presentation at the Spring Migration Celebration on May 12-17 by local birding experts Dave Benson and Mike Hendrickson about Birdathon, a 24-hour bird-sighting competition. The six day festival will include presentations, potlucks and several field trips to birding hotspots. Anyone interested in the event should visit https://mail.northland.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.hawkridge.org.

Loons will also be a topic of discussion at the May 15-17 Chequamegon Bay Nature and Birding Festival at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland. There will be several events related to loons at the festival, such as a pontoon trip onto Beaver Dam Lake and a presentation about the loon’s role as a barometer for lake health led by Stacy Craig, coordinator of the LoonWatch program. The three day event will feature over a hundred workshops, tours, presentations and field trips to choose from. Writer, speaker, storyteller and humorist Al Batt of Hartland, Minnesota will be the keynote speaker. Anyone interested in the festival should visit https://mail.northland.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://birdandnaturefest.com to view the complete schedule and register.

For more information about loons, visit the LoonWatch website at https://mail.northland.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.northland.edu/loonwatch or continue reading our blog for both and new information.

Northland College and its Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute are located in Ashland, Wis., near the shores of Lake Superior. Northland’s distinctive environmental liberal arts program, passionate faculty, and beautiful natural location create a community of engaged learners who develop the skills and experience to prepare for advanced studies and meaningful lives. Founded in 1892, Northland enrolls 700 students from across the nation and across the world. For more information about Northland College and its Institute, visit https://mail.northland.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.northland.edu.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Loon Cam

For the past seven years Larry Backlund has had loons nesting on an artificial nesting platform on his lake. This year he has installed a loon cam so that people all over the world can watch the loons as they nest and hatch their chicks. He also has a blog that he regularly updates to keep people informed of the loons's behavior off the nest. We wish both the loons and him good luck in this years breeding season and hope that everyone will enjoy the show!

To see the live loon cam, please visit www.mnbound.com.