November 4, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
Written and Submitted
by: Donna Love
The Montana Loon Society held their annual end of the loon-management season meeting in Polson on Sunday, September 26, 1999. A preliminary set of data revealed that 35 chicks were hatched and raised on 26 Montanan lakes. This is consistent with the count in years 1994 through 1998, which shows that though the Montana loon population has not grown in numbers, they have stabilized.
This year brought the formation of an important group, the Montana Common Loon Working Group. This group will undertake the technical aspects of loon management. "The CLWG has three priorities," said Kelly, "the collection and analysis of data, the development of management guidelines, and education." Kelly said anyone can be a member of this group, but most of its members are biologists. Gael Bissell, wildlife biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Region 1 in Kalispell and Jane Ingebretson, wildlife biologist for the Swan Lake Ranger District in Bigfork will co-chair the Goup.
The Society's loon banding program which banded 13 Montana birds over a two year period in 1996 and 1997 is beginning to reveal much needed information about Montana's birds. Award winning wildlife biologist and Montana Loon Society President, Lynn Kelly, reported that the Seeley Lake female from the Clearwater Drainage banded on July 7, 1997 was found dead at Sand Island, California in August of 1998. It is suspected that it probably did not migrate due to an injury or bad health. The Alva Lake female also from the Clearwater Drainage banded on July 9 of 1996 was found alive and watched for a month from March 10 to mid April in 1999 at Morro Bay, California. This same bird returned to nest and raise one chick on Alva Lake this summer. These two findings are significant. Until this time we did not know for sure where Montana's loons spent their winter. Now we can say with some certainty that they winter off the coast of California.
Once again, Glacier Park had a nice surprise for Montana. A yellow-billed loon was seen on Lake McDonald in the Park from April 24 to May 2. "Yellow-billed loons breed in the high Arctic tundra and winter on the Pacific coast," Kelly said, "but they are occasionally seen inland." Yellow-billed loons are similar to Common Loons in color, but they are larger and have a bright yellow beak. There are only two previous confirmed sightings of yellow-billed loons in Montana in January of 1987 at Giant Springs on the Missouri River near Great Falls and in November of 1994 at Fort Peck.
The MLS also received a high honor. Kelly was named Wildlife Biologist of the Year by the Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society at the Society's annual meeting in Bozeman in March. She was given this award on a vote of her peers who recognized her work with loons since 1986. She founded the MLS, initiated Loon Day, instigated loon banding and testing for contaminants in Montana, started the Loon Working Group and sits on the Board of Directors for the North American Loon Fund, the world's foremost leading loon foundation. "I was totally blown away, speechless, and that doesn't happen very often," Kelly said of receiving this award.
The society also wrote and produced a new Boater-Education Brochure in 1999 titled "Responsible Watercraft Use and Montana's Loons." The brochure explains the various ways that careless boaters can harm loons and offers specific instructions on how to avoid disturbing nesting loons and nurseries. Individuals or groups interested in obtaining a copy of this brochure can contact the Montana Loon Society at 406-677-3767.
The Montana Loon Society also gives two awards of their own each year. At their annual meeting in September the Volunteer of the Year Award went to Donna Love, who has been instrumental in monitoring loons on Seeley, Salmon and Alva Lakes, serves as the MLS secretary, developed the Society's Boater-Education brochure, and began giving loon talks for children.
The Partner's Award went to Gael Bissell, who spearheaded the successful effort for MFWP to purchase the land surrounding the only two loon nests left on the Thompson Chain of Lakes, co-chaired the Common Loon Working Group and is the chair of a special MFWP special Region 1 Loon Committee. "We are where we thought we might be in five years (in terms of loon management) because of Gael's tremendous efforts," Kelly said.
The Montana Loon Society has been monitoring loons since the late l980's, led in their efforts by Kelly. Common Loons are large, goose sized, black and white diving birds that spend their summer on open fresh-water lakes and winter on the ocean. Montana is only one of four states west of the Mississippi River where loons spend their breeding season. Montana has the largest population of the four states, but that's still not very many. About 200 loons migrate to our state each summer to breed and raise their young.
Society members are the "loon watchers" who volunteer their time to "watch" loons on their area lakes, count loons on Loon Day, (a population census taken in both in May and July) and monitor Federal, State, County and Industry issues that effect the loon.
For Montana Loon Society membership information call Donna Love in Seeley Lake at 677-3767 or Linda Winnie in Kila at 755-1406 or write to the Montana Loon Society at POB 1131, Seeley Lake, MT 59868. Membership is $15.00 a year. New members will receive a membership packet of information on loons. Your membership fees goes totally to loon management. You might also consider a combined Membership to the MLS and the national organization for loons, the North American Loon Fund (NALF) at a special low rate of $35.00 per individual. For a combined membership you will receive a free color loon poster from NALF that describes the various behaviors of loons and their needs.