Canadian Lakes Loon Survey seeks volunteers

Matt
Matt Gardner
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A loon sits on a nest in Prince Albert National Park.

Avid bird watchers take note: Prince Albert National Park wants you.

The park is currently seeking volunteers to help monitor its loon population over the summer as part of the annual Canadian Lakes Loon Survey.

Prerequisites for the job -- which takes only one day a month in June, July and August -- are fairly basic, as parks spokesperson Shannon Bond noted.

“If you know what a loon looks like, you’re in,” Bond said. “It’s pretty well any age.”

“You have to have your own boat if you want to actually go out on the water,” she added. “A pair of binoculars would be really helpful. But really, it’s self-led. You can go out whenever you want.”

The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey was established in 1981 in response to fears over human pressure on the population of Canada’s most iconic bird.

Staff members at Prince Albert National Park began carrying out the annual surveys on their own turf in 1996.

“This is the first year we’re really actually trying to get the public involved,” Bond said.

“Right across the parks system, the citizen-scientists kind of thing is really growing,” she added. “People have a real strong interest in somehow being a part of the conservation and stewardship of these places and we just thought this was one area that would be really easy and it’s already kind of interesting to people. We tend to get a lot of questions about loons.”

The P.A. National Park survey involves 12 of the smaller lakes within the park and is performed primarily on canoes and kayaks, though loons may also be monitored from the shoreline in smaller lakes.

“Essentially, we just ask people to go out once a month -- more if you can, but once for sure -- and count how many adult loons and how many chicks you see, and then we report that back,” Bond said.

“What it’s doing is it’s helping us determine what the health of the aquatic ecosystem is in the park, as well as the birds themselves, and the reason for that is loons are kind of the top of the food chain on those small lakes especially. So if we’re counting healthy population numbers of loons in those lakes, it means that the habitat they’re relying on is also healthy.”

This is the first year we’re really actually trying to get the public involved ... Right across the parks system, the citizen-scientists kind of thing is really growing. Shannon Bond

Many loon watchers enjoy camping overnight for the occasion. While the loon survey requires volunteers to go out at least one day per month, many go out more frequently.

During the first visit in June, volunteers check to see if loon pairs are on territory. The July date involves checking whether chicks have hatched, while the August visit involves seeing if the chicks have survived long enough to fledge.

Forms used by volunteers allow them to enter the number of loons they see. Park employees are also available to offer helpful tips.

“On windy or wavy days, you might not see any chicks because they’ll be hiding somewhere where it’s safe or out of the wind,” Bond said. “You come back two hours later when it’s calm and you’ll see them.”

She noted that aside from being enjoyable in itself, the task of watching loons can also promote a sense of stewardship over the park, particularly among younger generations.

“It’s actually a really super-relaxing thing to do … and it’d be a great thing to do with your kids, really,” Bond said.

“I mean, you just get out there and you hang out in the kayak or the boat and count loons and they start to feel a real sense of connection to the place and … that responsibility to care for creatures in the park.”

Anyone interested in participating in the loon survey this summer may send an email to panploon.pnpaplongeon@pc.gc.ca to obtain a survey form.

Additional information on the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey is available at http://www.bsc-eoc.org/volunteer/clls.

Geographic location: Canadian Lakes, Canada, Prince Albert National Park P.A. National Park

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