Every year the Loon Preservation Committee does a count of NH's loons on Lake Winnipesaukee. I decided to go out on the lake with them to find out how the loons are doing.
The Director of the Loon Preservation Committee, Harry Vogel, leads me down a forest path toward a boat slip on the northern tip of Lake Winnipesaukee. We'll be touring the lake looking for loons in advance of the population census later in the week. Within moments - maybe it's unavoidable - we're talking about On Golden Pond, which Vogel had just re-watched.
The annual count of loons on New Hampshire's lakes shows a slight increase over last year, but experts caution the census only provides a glimpse into the true population. Harry Vogel of the Loon Preservation Committee says 622 observers counted 549 adult loons during a one-hour period on July 19. That's up from the 520 adults observed last year. Vogel notes there were 26 fewer observers last year, so it's too early to say there are more loons. A more complete picture will emerge in a couple of weeks when full-year monitoring results are released.
Experts estimate there are nearly 300 adult loons living on Vermont's lakes and ponds, up from just a couple dozen 30 years ago.
On Saturday, more than 200 volunteers spread out across Vermont for the annual loon survey.
The results of the survey are trickling in, but Eric Hanson of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and the coordinator of the Vermont Loon Conservation Project, says there are many more birds now than just a few years ago.
He says 15 years ago there were around 100 loons and in 1983 biologists counted only 29.
For some Granite Staters the loon represents the state in a very emotional way, and supporters of the bird were out in force on Tuesday, defending a bill that would ban lead fishing gear. The bill was being heard by the House Fish and Game Committee, and attendees over-flowed out the door of a double capacity hearing room.
As anglers dust off their tackle boxes, it's a great time to make sure that all the lead is out. Decades of research by the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough has proven the toxicity of lead fishing tackle to wildlife. One lead sinker an ounce or less in weight can kill a loon in a matter of weeks. Loons swallow grit and pebbles that help to grind up food, and sometimes there's a sinker in the gravelly mix. Fishermen lose a lot of sinkers.
Summer visitors to New Hampshire typically are eager to hear the call of a common loon, emblem of the wild and remote north woods. Popular souvenirs to take home include coffee mugs, sweatshirts and jewelry—all with a loon motif.
In addition to their striking appearance, I suspect the fact that loons chorus at night adds greatly to their mystique. Loons of winter don't get much attention, but scan coastal waters and chances are good you'll see a loon or two offshore. New Hampshire's breeding loons don't migrate far.