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Maine Audubon celebrates 30 years of counting Maine's loons

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Volunteers across the state will soon grab their binoculars and head out to lakes and ponds on some important business. Saturday, July 20, is the 30th annual loon count. The event provides a snapshot of Maine's loon population for the Maine Audubon as well as the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. 

According to the Maine Audubon, when the count first started, little information was known about the bird which serves as an icon for the state. With reports of fewer birds being spotted, however, an annual state-wide count was made custom. The count, along with loon morality studies, have given the Maine Audubon better insight to the many challenges that loons face. Through the count has revealed that the adult loon population has slowly but steadily increased, but the chick count is alarming. In 2011, 619 chicks were spotted, an all-time high. In 2012, however, there were only 178 chicks reported. Right now, it is unclear why the numbers from that year were so low.

According to Maine Audubon's website, about 900 volunteers participate in the count each year. 

Ryan Jones will be participating in the count for the second time this year. Jones thinks that being a part of the count is rewarding for a number of reasons. 

'The loon count is a chance to spend quality time with friends in the outdoors, while contributing to the greater good as citizen scientists,' Jones said. 

'At the last loon count, we surveyed ponds that had never been surveyed before and it felt very rewarding to add data points... my friend brought his 12-year-old daughter along and I feel the experience was a lesson in environmental stewardship,' said Jones. He says that although loons are large birds, they can be difficult to spot on a large body of water such as a lake. According to Jones, to make sure that volunteers do not count the same loon twice, the observation window is limited to half an hour. Jones also says that volunteers are given a lake survey map where they can mark where they saw the loon, as well as where they were when they saw it. Jones says that he has learned many things from being a part of the count. 

'It has taught me importance of public participation in scientific research,' said Jones. He says that the count has also underscored the importance of outdoor ethics. 

'Things like stray fishing line can be harmful to loons. We try to leave the campsite nicer than we found it,' Jones said. 

The Maine Audubon has several tips on keeping loons safe. One of these is to obey the no-wake rule within 200 feet of shore. They also say to use lead free tackle, and dispose of fishing line properly. Keeping your garbage out of reach of skunks and raccoons can also help, because those animals are loon egg predators. If you see a loon on a nest, keep your distance and use binoculars to watch. 

Volunteers interested in participating in this year's loon count can contact Susan Gallo at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or call (207) 781-6180 x216. Results from this year's count will be available this fall.

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