Volume 107|December 22nd, 2020
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Dear Friends,
Twas the week before Christmas, and across the lake,
Something was stirring amongst the snowflakes.
Surrounded by ice, all covered in snow
A loon sat stranded, with nowhere to go.
The cold snap that accompanied last Thursday's snowstorm caused many of New Hampshire's lakes to freeze over. Loons are heavy birds with relatively short wings, and because of that, they require a large 'runway' of open water in order to take flight. Loons that wait too long to leave their lakes in the winter risk losing the ability to take off as the ice closes in around them. Since last Thursday, LPC has received reports from five New Hampshire lakes of loons trapped in small patches of open water. This made for a busy weekend for LPC's Senior Biologist, John Cooley!
LPC Senior Biologist, John Cooley, prepares to don the insulated suit that will protect him should he fall through the ice.
John's work began on Friday morning at Webster Lake in Franklin, where an adult loon had become iced in. After suiting up in protective gear, he carefully made his way across the ice. The loon tried its best to evade capture, but in the end, John was able to catch it and bring it for veterinary care. Though this loon was found to have slightly elevated lead levels, it was able to be treated and was determined to be well enough to release on the ocean the following day.
Success! The Webster Lake loon was captured and brought for a veterinary evaluation.
Saturday brought John to Lake Kanasatka, where the chick that hatched this year had become iced in. Despite great effort on John's part, the loon still had enough open water to dive and evade capture, and it was decided that the best course of action was to try again the next day, after the lake had frozen up a bit more. Later on that night, LPC received a report of two more iced in loons, one in the far north on Lake Francis in Clarksville, and one nearly 200 miles south of that, on Angle Pond in Sandown.
Net at the ready, John waits for the Lake Kanasatka juvenile loon to surface. Photo courtesy of Kevin Kelly.
On Sunday morning, John tried again at Lake Kanasatka. Though the ice had come in more overnight, the loon still had enough open water to dive and stay underwater for 30–60 seconds at a time. Fortunately, John's patience and persistence paid off—as the loon tired itself out, he was able to capture it.
Post capture, the Lake Kanasatka loon rests in the net. Photo courtesy of Kevin Kelly.
At the same time that John was rescuing the Kanasatka juvenile, NH Fish and Game Conservation Officers Chris Egan and Levi Frye were attempting to capture the adult loon trapped on Lake Francis. Their task was not an easy one—the loon had climbed up onto the ice and, as it was harrassed by a resident eagle, had propelled itself to the middle of the lake. This meant that they had to cross a great distance of ice to reach it. Fortunately, they were able to safely make their way out to the loon and capture it.

After dropping the Kanasatka loon off with wildlife rehabilitator Maria Colby and forming a plan to relay the Lake Francis loon to Concord for veterinary assessment, John continued on to Angle Pond in Sandown. Luckily, the ice on Angle Pond was thick and sturdy, and he was able to make quick work of the rescue, capturing the juvenile before dark.
Left: John Cooley makes his way across the ice on Angle Pond in Sandown. Right: The loon rests in a box after being caught.
On Monday morning, John headed out once again to rescue two juvenile loons that had become trapped in a small circle of open water on Townhouse Pond in Milton. It is not easy to capture two loons at once, and these loons made things even more difficult for John by splitting up—one propelled itself up onto the ice and away from the hole while the other remained diving in the water. However, after a few hours of trying, John was able to capture both loons.
John Cooley releases the juvenile loon from Angle Pond on the ocean.
The majority of these rescues have had positive outcomes—five of the six loons that were rescued have been released on the ocean. Unfortunately, the sixth loon had a bad case of aspergillosis, a fungal respiratory infection that is not treatable. Aspergillosis is caused by Aspergillius fungus, which is plentiful in the environment and only becomes a problem for loons when they are experiencing stress or are otherwise compromised. The stress associated with becoming iced in may have allowed the fungus to proliferate in this loon's respiratory system.
Here I am, preparing to release the Lake Francis adult loon on the ocean.
The overwhelming majority of New Hampshire's loons leave for the ocean by late November. Why did these six loons stay so late? We're not totally sure, but there are a few potential explanations:

1) Climate: Until last week's storm, the fall and winter temperatures here in NH had been very mild. Temperatures in November were above average in New Hampshire, and until last week's storm, December temperatures were also warmer than usual. It is possible that these loons did not leave for the ocean because they still had plenty of open water on their lakes, and the fishing was still good. They may have been taken by surprise by last week's cold snap and become iced in because of how rapidly the ice formed around them.
2) Inexperience: Four of the six loons that became iced in this week were juveniles, hatched this year. It is possible that these four loons did not pick up on the cues that normally spur loons to leave for the ocean.
3) Underlying problems: Underlying problems were detected for two of the six loons that were rescued this week—one of the adult loons had slightly elevated lead levels, and one of the juvenile loons had a bad case of aspergillosis. The elevated lead levels may have caused the adult loon to stay on the lake longer than it normally would have. The aspergillosis likely weakened the juvenile and rendered it unable to leave its lake.
4) This may be normal: Ice rescues are a relatively new addition to LPC's work—it's really just been within the last 10 or so years that we've started performing them regularly. It's possible that a small number of loons have always become iced in annually, but that they've just recently begun to be noticed and reported to us. We have greatly increased our outreach efforts over the past decade, which has increased our network of volunteers who are aware of this phenomenon and are on the lookout for and ready to report stranded loons. We have also greatly increased our capacity to rescue these loons in recent years.

These rescues have already proven to have a positive impact on our loon population—for example, three of the four loons that were rescued from Lake Sunapee and released on the ocean in 2016 have returned to their breeding lakes in subsequent years, and two of the four have added to New Hampshire's loon population in that time by hatching chicks.
After release, the two loons that were rescued on Townhouse Pond quickly located each other and spent time exploring their new surroundings together.
Whatever the cause, we are glad that we were able to catch these loons and give them a second chance. We are especially grateful for everyone who played a role in these rescues: the lake residents who first noticed that the loons were in trouble and called us; the volunteers who assisted from shore and helped to keep John safe while he was out on the ice; Fish and Game Conservation Officers Chris Egan and Levi Frye, who performed a daring rescue on Lake Francis; Maria Colby at Wings of the Dawn Wildlife Rehabilitation, who cared for these loons post-rescue and made sure they were fit for release; and the veterinarians who examined these loons and consulted on treatment and care. It takes a village to save a loon, and we are very fortunate to have such a great group of people to work with!
Wishing you a happy holiday season and a happy, healthy New Year!

Caroline

Caroline Hughes
Volunteer/Outreach Biologist
Loon Preservation Committee
Loon Preservation Committee | 603-476-LOON (5666) | www.loon.org
The Loon Preservation Committee is dedicated to restoring and maintaining a healthy population of loons throughout New Hampshire; monitoring the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and promoting a greater understanding of loons and the natural world.