A loon performs on the water of a central Maine lake. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

When the acorns start dropping on the camp’s metal roof, snapping like fire crackers, we know it’s getting toward the end of summer.

It’s tough, leaving camp.

The nights and mornings are chilly, boats on the lake infrequent now and the loons are more apt to swim closer to shore as if to say hello to those of us who are generally quiet all summer.

I’ll probably miss those loons most of all.

It’s so comforting to fall asleep to the sound of a loon calling and water rippling to shore.

On Labor Day as a friend and I sat reading by the lake, we suddenly heard a commotion about 250 feet from the dock.

Two loons were fluttering on the surface of the lake, chasing one another back, then forth.

This went on for several minutes. I had never seen anything like it.

I picked up my cellphone and Googled “loons chasing one another,” and learned a whole lot about what I was witnessing; namely, that loons are territorial, and male loons, especially, will fight for space on a lake. One loon can actually kill another in the process.

A grim scenario I wish I hadn’t discovered about my precious birds.

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s allaboutbirds.org website, loons establish territories before late June, but a loon can be displaced from its own lake or be unsuccessful in finding a territory, so it may intrude on another’s territory later in the summer.

There are four loon calls, according to the Loon Preservation Committee’s Loon.org: The wail, hoot, yodel and tremolo. Loons use the wail, a haunting, echoing call, for long distance communication between mated pairs of loons. The hoot is a short call used for brief communication between members of a loon family, or between rival loons. The yodel, which only the male loon employs, is typically used when it feels threatened in a territorial fight, when predators such as eagles are near, or when humans approach a loon nest. The tremolo, sometimes referred to as a “crazy laugh,” is used in response to a perceived threat from other loons, humans or predators such as eagles.

I have witnessed a sudden, noisy disturbance on the lake from loons fluttering around and calling to one another, and then sure enough, a bald eagle appears out of nowhere to survey the situation, but then flies off.

One of the sweetest things to witness is when mother, father and baby loon paddle around, dip under water and resurface — and then the baby loon rides on its mother’s back to rest.

I have written stories about the annual loon count and been fortunate enough to take a boat ride with count volunteers as they search for loons. Sadly, the National Audubon Society reports loons have disappeared from some former nesting areas because of disturbances from humans on lakes in summer, and acid rain may reduce food supplies in breeding ranges.

Loons are protected on some breeding grounds in the northeast, however, by volunteer “Loon Rangers” who patrol lakes and help educate people about the importance of conservation, according to the Audubon Society. Loons are projected to lose much of their breeding range due to climate change, the Audubon reports.

Thankfully, we have the Maine Audubon’s Maine Loon Project, which has been working more than 30 years to assess the status of loons in the state and help safeguard their future here. As part of the project, Maine Audubon works with people all over the state to help promote healthy lakes, clean water and quality habitats for loons and to help us understand trends in their population over time.

We must protect our treasured loons at all costs. When I see boats speeding and thrashing through the water, with loons bobbing, ostensibly at a safe distance, I feel sad and helpless. They don’t stand a chance against their larger, mechanical predators, and I wonder how many have been killed by watercraft.

I hate to say farewell to my beloved loons for the season, but know that they, like me, will head to a better winter habitat and return when it is time.

Until then, sweet friends, adieu, and stay safe.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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