What is the LoonWatch program all about?

 

The Common loon is a highly visible water bird inhabiting many of the lakes within the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve. It is an icon of wilderness and people are captivated by its beauty and haunting call. Concerns have been raised about the health of loons after research conducted by the Canadian Wildlife Service found that Nova Scotia loons have the highest blood mercury concentrations of any loon population in North America. These levels of mercury have been associated with impaired reproduction and altered breeding behavior in some areas. Besides the bio-accumulation of mercury, loons are sensitive to lake water acidification, water level fluctuations and human disturbance.

LoonWatch surveys began on park lakes within Kejimkujik in 1996. In 2006, the program was expanded to the greater landscape through MTRI, where volunteers are trained to observe and record loon activity and breeding success on an assigned lake throughout the summer using a national protocol developed by Bird Studies Canada. These two program components will provide a picture of how well loon populations are doing in the region.

If you have a lake and you would like to monitor for loons, consider becoming a LoonWatcher. To become a LoonWatcher, contact the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute and ask for a LoonWatch package for the lake you would like to monitor. Your LoonWatch package will provide you with a data sheet to fill in for the summer months along with a map of the lake.

 


 

Program Objectives
  • To observe loon abundance and breeding success on lakes within Kejimkujik and in the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve with a focus on the Mersey and Medway watersheds.
  • To determine status and trends in loon abundance, lake use and reproductive potential of resident birds.
  • To contribute to the monitoring of lake water quality.
Methods

Inside Kejimkujik:

  • LoonWatch used trained volunteers to simultaneously survey study lakes within a three hour observation period in late May and again in late August.
  • LoonWatch observations in May focused primarily on observing the number of adult loons (territorial pairs and individuals) residing on each lake. The August LoonWatch focused on the importance of assessing the number of surviving juvenile loons. Nests were not specifically sought after during LoonWatch in an effort to minimize disturbance. 

Outside Kejimkujik:

  • Lakeside dwellers and cottagers with an interest in loons were recruited and provided with information about loons and the monitoring protocol. Volunteers surveyed lakes in June for loon pairs, in July for newly hatched chicks and in August for surviving young.
  • Volunteer and MTRI staff data were collected and compiled, then shared with Bird Studies Canada.
  • MTRI staff canoed to the deepest part of many of the lakes and measured water quality at one meter intervals, recording temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and pH.