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Great Lakes Article:

New York tags loons to study migratory habits
By Michael Gormley
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - Government and environmental groups are putting a tail on the Adirondacks’ long-legged symbol to answer the long-standing question of where the loon goes in winter.

The reason for the effort goes beyond curiosity. The answer could help secure the future of the common loon and the Adirondacks’ thousands of lakes and ponds.

"We always wondered where our loons went in winter," said John Sheehan of The Adirondack Council. "It’s always been a concern for us."

The state study with the private Adirondack Cooperative Loon Program that studies migratory species will use satellite telemetry to track loons tagged with markers.

The path is critical. For example, loons could be migrating toward the Great Lakes where they could be exposed to Type E botulism, which has killed thousands of loons on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario over the four years. But many loons are also believed to winter along the East Coast.

In New England, loons are vulnerable to threats that include mercury in the fish they eat, ingestion of lead sinkers and speeding boats.

Loon populations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont have recovered in the past 10 years. A few years ago, Massachusetts had no breeding pairs, but it now has about a dozen.

Maine has the largest loon population in New England by far, but after 20 years of slow and steady growth, the state’s loon census may have stopped rising, the Maine Audubon Society said after its 2003 count.

Susan Gallo, a Maine Audubon wildlife biologist, said it’s not clear if the population has peaked or merely paused, or whether the numbers are cause for concern, she said.

The New York study "will help identify important aspects of the loon’s life cycle and will be useful in assessing problems this species encounters in New York state and throughout the Northeast to help further protect the common loon population," said Erin Crotty, state environmental conservation commissioner.

Data could help protect loons and pinpoint a source of exotic disease or other threats that could surface in the 6-million acre Adirondack State Park.

The research "will fill in missing gaps about the life history of Adirondack loons," said Nina Schoch, program coordinator for the Adirondack Cooperative Loon Program, which includes the Audubon Society of New York State and the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks.

"By understanding where loons migrate once they leave the Adirondacks, conservationists will be able to better protect these magnificent birds in both their breeding and wintering areas," Schoch said.

Students throughout North America will be able to follow the loons and better understand their lifestyle through a Web site and classroom course that will be made available in the fall.

The dark, fish-eating birds live along shorelines throughout the Adirondacks. Their ruffled, slow flight from shoreline trees is an increasingly prized sight for canoers and hikers.

"The common loon is an enduring and revered symbol of the Adirondack wilderness," said Brian Houseal of The Adirondack Council. "Loons only make their homes on undeveloped shorelines and are very apprehensive around people and noise. While that trait has helped them to survive as a species, we know far too little about them and their migratory habits."

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