Pennsylvania Game News - March 2019 - 63

they had deserted decades before.
In the Adirondacks and Finger
Lakes, where the population had
dwindled to 200 pairs, today there are
between 600 and 850 nesting pairs.
Altogether, the total North American
population is about 250,000 nesting
pairs. While these numbers are encouraging, biologists note loon numbers
remain well below historical levels.
Lead poisoning takes a toll. Common
loons can dive 75 feet and swiftly chase
fish underwater, but they can become
poisoned by prey that have ingested
lead jigs or split shot, or when mistaking lead fishing tackle for pebbles.
After consuming lead, it takes only
a few days before loons can't eat, and
they eventually become paralyzed
and die from exposure, suffocation or
starvation.
A study of this problem in New
Hampshire from 1989 to 2012 found
49 percent of the 253 loons tested had
died from lead poisoning. In New York,
a similar study found that lead had
been responsible for between 15 to 21
percent of loon deaths.
As Harry Vogel, wildlife
biologist and
director of
the Loon Preservation Committee told
writer Lauren Chambliss in an
article in the Summer 2018 Living Bird,
"It's a terrible death for these birds.
And it is so easily avoidable."
At Lake Altoona, we continued
watching waterfowl including
two blue-winged teal, two gadwall, three American wigeons, a
tundra swan, 10 northern shovelers, 50 ring-necked ducks, 10
MARCH 2019

buffleheads, two common mergansers
and four pied-billed grebes. Eight
Bonaparte's gulls flew overhead.
After an exciting hour there, we
drove to Canoe Creek State Park
because, as Mark said, "Once you're in
waterfowl mode, you must keep going."
Canoe Lake is 155 acres - much
larger than Lake Altoona - and provides an excellent resting and feeding
stopover for waterfowl. By the time
we arrived, it had clouded over and the
wind blew at gale force, whipping up
waves that would make it tougher to
spot waterfowl.
We set up our scope and scanned the
lake, locating a flock of seven common
loons, two gadwalls, three mallards,
five buffleheads, 14 red-breasted mergansers, two ruddy ducks, two piedbilled grebes and 10 American coots.
Fifteen double-crested cormorants
landed on the water with wings spread
like huge bats, and two killdeer ran
along the sandy beach.
Without Mark's help, I doubt I
would have seen as many waterfowl.
In addition to the loons, my favorites
were the white-cheeked, dark-capped,
rusty-red male ruddy ducks, the puffyheaded, black-and-white buffleheads,
the crested red-breasted mergansers,
and, best of all, the stunning goldencrowned horned grebes. The grebes,
too, were heading far north to breed on
lakes and ponds from the Brooks Range
in Alaska east to the western shore of
Hudson Bay.
In fact, almost all the waterfowl we
saw that day was only passing through
the state for places to breed far to the
north or west of us. That is why I make
it a practice every spring to visit nearby
lakes to admire these birds in their
gaudy, breeding attire.
63



Pennsylvania Game News - March 2019

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