The Foundation of Our Loonwatch Program DatabaseThe Loon Ranger Lake Report Form:
by Joanne C. Williams, State Coordinator, MLPA/MLW
The basic ingredient of our Michigan Loonwatch Program data recording system is the Loon Ranger Lake Report Form. The form has evolved over the fourteen years that Loonwatch has been active, having begun as a simple one page format. It later became three double-sided pages for a brief time as we sought to obtain more detailed background information on the lakes under observation. Today’s concise form addresses many facets of the information which we use in our database in order to further protection of the Common Loon and its habitat here in Michigan. Still, the form is never considered to be a finished product, but will continue to be revised and refined as time goes on. Many refinements are a result of suggestions from Rangers, Coordinators and MLPA members.
The Loon Rangers, who are the front-line observers monitoring the loon lakes, complete a form each year for each lake that they are watching. When the Loon nesting season is over, the Rangers send the completed form to the State Coordinator for compilation and entry into the database. Copies of the completed forms are forwarded to the Area Coordinator for their particular counties. Each year, for the lakes they visit in their region, the AC’s also complete a final Site (Lake) Visit Report Form, as well as an August Mid-Season Report Form with preliminary nesting data to help us begin to enter the season’s data.
The LR Lake Report Form is divided into several sections. The front page has two separate areas: the top half is for the current year’s data; the bottom part for information and or update from the previous (or any other past) year. The county, lake and township, range and section (TRS) are at the top of the form: information that exactly locates the lake. The spaces for entry of the season’s statistics, nest locations, and first and last sightings of the loons and chicks follow.
The reverse side of the form has places for the Ranger’s information, as well as geographical and usage information about the lake. Others who are part of the environmental agencies, enforcement and services network, as well as information about those who might be able to act as Alternate Ranger are listed. In addition, there is space at the bottom to sketch a map. Michigan Natural Features Inventory has made maps of some takes available to us, and each year we send a copy to the Ranger to return to us at season’s end with their notations. This map is included, along with other materials, in the annual spring Loonwatch packet provided to each Ranger with the season’s updated Loon Ranger Manual pages as well as a new report form for that year.
The Lake Report Forms are a very necessary part of the gathering of data needed for the work of Michigan Loonwatch and the Michigan Loon Preservation Association, enabling us to share data with other states as well as with other agencies within Michigan. But none of this would be possible without the dedication of our Loon Rangers and Area Coordinators. Their work and observations, year after year, are what keep the Loonwatch program alive and allow us to compile the data vital to our efforts for the protection and preservation of the beautiful Common Loon and its habitat. We send them our sincere thanks and gratitude.
The Loon Ranger and the Very Strange Summer
The work of our Rangers and the lake reports that they return to us each year are vital in the efforts to help the loons; without them, our work simply would not be possible. Many factors can have an influence on loon habitat and nesting successes, and this summer has proved an unusual one for both. It seems more and more apparent that the loons, along with other wildlife, are being noticeably affected by conditions resulting from both natural and human influence.
Low water levels, seen to some degree in recent years, have become a major condition this year and appear to have been a factor in the loss of loon nests. Flooding on some other lakes has caused the loss of nests and eggs, but overall, the lower water levels have been most observed this season.
The apparent increase in predation of eggs and chicks is another concern. As development and lake use are increasing, natural habitat is decreasing and wildlife is being forced into smaller and smaller areas. The result, among other factors, is a decrease in food supply both as a result of degradation of natural areas and also the increase in competition for dwindling available food sources. Competition for nesting areas and for wildlife territories is also increasing as a result of the natural and human influences on the lakes.
We urge that there be no hesitation in requesting Artificial Nesting Island consideration when an apparent problem appears to be influencing loon nesting on a lake. It is imperative, such as loss of nest site area due to water level changes, that the AN1 be installed quickly and as early in the nesting season as possible to ensure that the chicks will be fledged and strong for the Fall migration. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to assess a present situation and how it may turn out; in that case, we can prepare for the next season. Perhaps, on some lakes, placement of an ANI might be only needed as a temporary solution until water levels are again normalized and to also help provide a safer nesting area that cannot be easily accessed by some predators.
We urge our Loon Rangers to continue to return their lake reports to us. That is so very important, even if there was no nesting observed or if the loans have left the lake for some reason, known or unknown. These reports are essential, especially if there have been problems on a lake and if the loons have had difficulties of any kind, or if there have been losses of nest and/or chicks. The reports give us the information to better understand what is happening and how to help the loons and their habitat, through our own Association as well as with others.
In an ever-changing world, the loons continue to need our help, and we need to continue to work together for their survival and success. This not only for them, but for ourselves as well, that we and future generations will not be left to know them only in stories and to hear their wonderful, stirring call only in memory. This much we can, and must, do: for Earth, for ourselves and most of all, for the loons.
Lake Maps: A Vital Part of the Loon Ranger Lake Reports
and Loon Protection
Each year at the end of the nesting season, our Loon Rangers return their Lake Report Forms to the State Coordinator for entry of important data into our database. These reports, which include observations of the adult loons and their chicks, nesting success and survival rates and other pertinent information, are used in many ways to help protect loons and their habitat,
The lake map is a very important part of the Ranger Report. It provides information necessary for determining locations of loon nests (both natural and artificial) and the nursery and feeding areas on lakes, as well as information about locations of boat launches, public access sites and development.
Michigan Natural Features Inventory, which maintains the only current, comprehensive, single source of data about Michigan's endangered plant and animal species, has provided maps for many of the lakes which are monitored through our Michigan Loonwatch Program. Copies of these maps are included in the packets sent to the Rangers each spring; there is also a space on the Report Form for a hand-drawn map if there is no MNFI map available for that particular lake. When the reports are returned to us in the fall, copies are made of all included maps for our files, and also sent to MNFI.
Our database and map information shared with MNFI enables them to help protect loons and habitat on a wide scale, since extensive data from many sources are compiled into their central file to provide the most complete overviews possible. This information is used by federal, state and local agencies as well as private organizations to guide decisions involving management, development and conservation. It is also used for many types of permit applications from land managers and regulators, which include aquatic herbicide treatments, gypsy moth spraying, construction and development and dredging as well as wetland filling.
When proposed projects that may affect loons and their habitat are received for review by MNFI, the information and data sent from our Loonwatch program is invaluable. The history of loon activity and nesting success is vital to determining the impact of a proposed project on loon nesting and feeding, and the up-to-date maps provide the necessary information on nest site locations and critical nursery areas.
The Loon Ranger Reports, including the maps, are the vital link in expanding loon protection beyond MLPA/MLW to other agencies. We urge our Rangers to return maps with their reports, so that we can all continue to work together to protect and preserve Michigan's Common Loon, a truly priceless part of our natural heritage.
Joanne C. Williams, State Coordinator MLPA/MLW
Loon Rangers and Area Coordinators:
Our Volunteers for Loon Protection in Michigan
by Joanne C. Williams, State Coordinator, MLPA/MLW
The foundation of our Michigan Loonwatch Program is the people who make it possible to carry on our work for the loons here in our state. They are the Loon Rangers and the Area Coordinators, volunteers who give unselfishly of their time and efforts to help ensure that the song of the loon will not disappear from Michigan.
Each year these dedicated people observe the loons on the lakes and report the information to us for entry into our Michigan Loonwatch database in order that we can have the most recent history as well as statistics in order to provide the best protection we can for the loons and their habitat. In addition, they provide on-the-spot protection efforts as well as educational efforts for people who use the lakes, whether for recreational purposes or just for a lake residence.
Our Rangers often help the Loons' story to be successful when it looks like all might fail. Last summer, the small floating island where the loons were nesting on a Clare County Lake began to break apart. The previous summer, the island had moved out of its cove during a summer storm, and the loons were terribly upset. The Rangers and lake residents got their boats, anchored onto the island, and pulled it back into the cove. The loons returned to their nest and successfully hatched and raised one chick. This year, though, when the island broke apart, they abandoned the nest and the eggs were taken by predation. We received several calls from lake residents about the situation, asking what could be done. We assured them that we were going to try to help, and in October we went to the lake, pulled the parts of the island together, attaching the smaller parts to the larger section (on which we found the nest) and anchored it much like we would an artificial island. Everyone is eager to see how things will go this coming summer. They are all very concerned and want to keep the loons on their lake. We think that there is a very good chance that the loons will return to the little island and we will see chicks this summer, thanks to the concern and dedication of the Rangers and all the others who love the loons!
We presently have about 400 Loon Rangers and 16 Area Coordinators. Our program continues to grow, and we always welcome new Rangers and Coordinators. At the present time, we are looking for Area Coordinators for the following counties: Alcona, Iosco, Ogemaw and Oscoda. Also, our Area Coordinator for Crawford, Otsego and Roscommon Counties would be pleased to have someone help out there.
If you are interested in helping with the Area Coordinator efforts and/or becoming a Loon Ranger, we would be happy to hear from you! We presently cover 47 Michigan counties and have 684 lakes in our database. Some lakes do not have Rangers, so if you live on or visit a lake that has loons, please consider being part of our Loon Ranger Program! We are making a difference for these beautiful birds, and it is well worth our efforts and very rewarding! We thank you, and the Loons do too!