On the lookout for loons on Little Clear Pond

LAKE CLEAR – From early May into July, loons can be found on nests throughout the Adirondacks.

Among those areas where loons tend to nest is the St. Regis Canoe Area, with Little Clear Pond being one of the most successful ponds for breeding.

On Sunday, June 2, Nina Schoch led a small group on a tour of Little Clear as part of the 11th annual Great Adirondack Birding Celebration, organized by the Paul Smith’s College VIC. Schoch, who is based in Ray Brook, is the coordinator for the Biodiversity Research Institute’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation.

As part of the birding celebration, there were excursions to various parts of the Adirondacks, including Whiteface Mountain, the Madawaska Flow area, Westport and the Intervale Lowlands in Lake Placid. There were 32 people who took part in the birding celebration, a number that was down from previous years.

Little Clear Pond was chosen as a destination because it is one of the most common places to see loons in the canoe area, in part because the fishing is great there. The water body is used by the state-run Adirondack Hatchery to raise landlocked salmon for breeding and stocking purposes. That means no fishing is allowed, which leaves plenty of food for the birds.

On this particular day, the group went out in two canoes. One four-seater was occupied by myself, Wayne Haskell and Brian McDonnell, who runs the VIC. The other canoe contained Schoch and Ann Haskell, who is married to Wayne and has a home in Lake Clear.

The purpose of the trip was to scope out the area for loons, including a few nesting spots that we would view from a respectful distance.

We found a loon sitting on the nest at one of the three potential nesting sites we visited. The adult bird was on the shoreline, situated behind and underneath a log, a relatively protected site.

According to Schoch, loons usually will spend 26 to 28 days on the nest when there are eggs. Both male and female birds will sit on the eggs.

“They both take turns in incubating, and they both take turns in caring for the young and defending the territory,” Schoch said. “The male defends the territory more than the female does, but often times I see the female. With the banded birds, I’ll see the female go and socialize with other birds and the males care for the other.”

After a quick view of the nesting site, we departed for a nearby shoreline due after some dark clouds appeared on the horizon, indicating an impending storm. We were looking for a nest in this new location also.

I’d actually seen a loon with eggs that had nested in this new site a couple of years ago. The bird had her nest on a stump that was above the waterline. The nest made an island off the shoreline, leaving the loon and eggs vulnerable to attacks from predatory birds, such as hawks. I don’t think the nesting site lasted long that year was later moved to a boggy area on the shoreline.

We didn’t find the site this time but we did spot three loons floating nearby, occasionally diving under the water for fish. Loons can dive as deep as 200 feet under water, though Schoch said they usually dive about 10 to 20 feet here.

In addition, we saw a loon across the pond skimming the water as it lifted into the air for a flight. Eventually, after flying in the direction of the put-in, it circled and headed back toward us. That was one of several times during the morning that we would see a loon in flight.

Overall, the loon population seems to be doing pretty well in the Adirondacks, and definitely in the canoe area.

“More and more people are seeing birds over the course of the years, and when I looked at the Breeding Bird Atlas data and looked at what was doing at the 2000s, the population in New York has definitely expanded its range and there’s more birds confirmed on nests with chicks than previously,” Schoch said.

However, loons still do face challenges to their population. Mercury from air pollution affects the ecosystems where loons live and gets into their blood system, causing complications and lower reproduction rates.

The birds also are vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can be caused by things such as lead fishing tackle. It’s illegal to sell lead sinkers in this state but not against the law to use them. In addition, lead jigs are still sold and used.

Another seemingly growing threat to loons and other birds is fishing line entanglement. Schoch has seen a rise in this occurrence in recent years and gets about 10 to 15 calls a year about it.

The problem has become so prevalent that she is starting a program to help facilitate the clean up of line by distributing fishing line recycling containers. The program is in its initial stages and she expects to provide more information about it soon.

Basically what will happen with the program is that once the group or individual in charge of the container collects enough line, they will send it off to be recycled. Schoch will have a system in place to keep track of the amount of line each individual or group collects and then reward whoever collects the most line with a prize. Anyone who is interested should contact her at adkloon@bri.org or 888-749-5666 ext. 145.