The pair of loons who have frequented Lake Fairlee for four consecutive years returned in late April while skims of ice were still visible on parts of the lake. These are presumably the same loons who successfully hatched chicks starting in 2016. They seemed right at home and pleased to find their nesting raft freshly refoliated and waiting for them in the cove between the northern end of Treasure Island and the Tifft/MacAdam property’s wet meadow.
After some back and forth conflicts with marauding geese, our loons began nesting full time on May 14. It was the earliest confirmed report of nesting loons in Vermont this year, according to Eric Hanson, head of the Vermont Loon Conservation Project. With a gestation period of 28 days, the eggs will yield one or two loons chicks by June 10 if all goes well. The nesting raft was set up by Eric and local volunteers in 2017 and is visible from Route 244 at the base of the hill before the Treasure Island entrance. Five warning buoys furnished by the Loon Conservation Project are arrayed around the cove warning boaters to keep their distance.
Nesting loon on May 17, 2019. Photo by Ben McLaughlin.
This past year, the Fairlee loons hatched two chicks, much to the delight of lake residents who phoned in regular reports of their rapid growth under the watchful eye and tutelage of the loon parents. There were only 97 loon chicks reported in Vermont (73 surviving to late August) from 66 successful hatches out of 91 nest attempts in 2018. In 2017, there were 97 nesting pairs of loons with 92 chicks surviving, which was something of a banner year.
The Fairlee loons first nested in 2016 on the sandbar at the mouth of Blood Brook and were fully documented by local naturalist and photographer Tig Tillinghast. He placed a remote camera on the shore across from their nest that captured an image every 10 seconds as part of a study to monitor both wildlife and human interaction with the vulnerable loons. They hatched a single chick that year.
The following year, with lake levels higher, the loons returned but could not nest on the submerged sandbar. They instead established a nest on the island portion of Treasure Island, but it appears a raccoon made off with the eggs. Alerted to this by local observers, Eric and his interns quickly determined that a second nesting attempt might still be possible by positioning a specially designed raft off the northern shore. This artificial assistance is only offered when a nesting pair has shown itself successful without human help. The nesting raft worked and the Fairlee loons produced another chick that summer of 2017.
While most of the credit goes to our dauntless loon parents, the watchful care of Lake Fairlee residents also deserves recognition. Every year more and more reports come in showing how observant and protective we are towards our loons. Our lake was not considered an ideal loon nesting lake because preferred nesting sites (islands and marshes) are near where people like to be — such as Treasure Island — and the marshes are not full of hummocks for potential nest sites. Lake Fairlee is also very busy during the summer months. However, through the placement of the nesting raft in the most out-of-the way place and lots of outreach, we have shown that loons and people can co-exist with a little help.
Eric has posted a “wish list” for this season’s work:
1.) blue foam blocks such as those used under floats and docks are needed to be placed under nesting rafts each year as they become waterlogged;
2.) a 12-foot fishing boat for loon rescues that Eric could transport in the back of his truck and attach a trolling motor to.
Submitted by Doug Tifft.