ROME — About 20 minutes into a loon watching excursion Saturday morning on Great Pond, Steven Schoeneck spotted the first black-and-white bird of the day floating on the lake.

“I’ve got one, right off the point, a black dot,” said Schoeneck, 37, of Houston, Texas, gripping his binoculars and pointing across the water.

“Yes sir, that’s a good catch,” said Richard LaBelle, 30, a fellow loon counter out on the water Saturday.

LaBelle, Schoeneck and Schoeneck’s father-in-law, Frank Griffin, were among more than 900 volunteers to participate in Maine Audubon’s 33rd annual Loon Count on Saturday, a statewide event in which lakes and ponds were surveyed for loons as part of a scientific and conservation effort.

“The annual count has helped build support for laws that keep our lakes and loons healthy, including regulations around lead-free tackle, shoreline development and invasive plants,” said Susan Gallo, director of the Maine Loon Project. “It’s also been a great way to get people outside, learning about where loons are, where they nest, and how easy it is to share a lake with a loon family.”

In 2015, 850 volunteers surveyed 290 Maine lakes and ponds, counting a total of 2,818 adult loons and 218 chicks in the southern half of Maine. Although the count takes place statewide, the project has been able to collect reliable data from only the southern half of the state, since there are so few volunteers farther north, Gallo said.


The 2015 number was down about 10 percent from the number counted in 2014, but according to Maine Audubon, the long-term trend for loons remains positive, with last year’s number being about twice the number counted in the first Loon Count, in 1984. Last year’s count also was hampered by torrential rain that day, according to Maine Audubon.

This year more than 900 volunteers participated in the Loon Count. The total number of birds cited Saturday was not immediately available, but the small group on Great Pond spotted two — the same number they saw last year.

Griffin, who lives year-round on the pond, said he felt the number was low compared to the number of loons that live around the water and the number he sees regularly.

“Just sitting at the house, you usually see one or two per day,” he said. “It’s when you go out to look for them that you can’t find them.”

The Loon Count takes place every year on the third Saturday in July. The time of year is good for spotting loons as well as chicks, which typically hatch between mid-June and mid-July, Gallo said.

Volunteers are assigned to a specific part of a lake or pond so as not to duplicate efforts, and are all asked to conduct their counts from 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.


“They sort of systematically search the area and make sure to get all the loons they can find,” Gallo said. “To the best of their ability, they search their piece of their lake and report back.”

While it would be impossible to count every loon in the state, Gallo said the number calculated during the loon count can be used to extrapolate estimates on lakes and ponds and provide an accurate idea of how many birds there are in the state and how quickly they are reproducing.

Lead fishing tackle is the leading cause of death for adult loons in Maine, according to Maine Audubon, and the birds also face other challenges, including from boats that create wakes too close to shore, potentially disrupting nesting areas; disturbances from canoes or kayaks in nesting areas; and mercury levels in the water.

“None of those individually are going to spell the end of loons in Maine,” Gallo said. “But when you take them all together, it makes for a pretty challenging summer on Maine’s lakes. Raising a chick is a huge accomplishment.”

The Loon Count, in addition to providing data on loon populations, also raises awareness among the public and can be a good incentive for people to change their behavior, she said. While the adult loon population in Maine has increased over the last 30 years, there has been flat growth of the chick population.

Still, the loon population in general seems to be doing well in Maine, Gallo said.


“I think the count is good motivation for people,” she said. “Instead of doom and gloom, you can say loons are doing well in Maine. Here’s all the things you can do to keep them doing well.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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