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Three loons saved from ice and eagles

SARANAC LAKE — The Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation announced that it successfully coordinated a rescue of three adult loons who were iced-in on Lake George. On Sunday afternoon, local residents and birders contacted Dr. Nina Schoch, the executive director of the Loon Center, to report the loons swimming in a small hole in the ice. Eagles had already absconded with a fourth loon, and one was sitting at the edge of the ice watching the other three loons closely.

“That area of the lake had just iced up last week. With the relatively mild winter, the loons were likely wintering over on Lake George when the below-zero weather trapped them by quickly forming ice,” said Dr. Schoch. “At this time of the year, loons are molting into their breeding plumage and are often flightless because their wing feathers have not yet grown back in. Thus, they are unable to fly if the ice forms quickly and they get trapped.”

Saving adult loons is very important as they are able to return to the breeding grounds for many years, since they live to be 20 to 30 years old. However, an ice rescue of loons is a potentially dangerous situation, as the ice can be thin next to the puddle where the loons are trapped. Sometimes conditions are not safe enough to attempt a rescue, so each situation is evaluated carefully and numerous safety precautions are taken.

The Loon Center has coordinated several such rescues in the past; its experience with the equipment and techniques to conduct a rescue of an iced-in loon enabled this rescue to be conducted safely and efficiently. The rescuers wear safety gear and net the birds from a canoe. A long-handled net is used to extract the loon from the water and then it is placed in a padded bin.

“It took a while to catch the first bird, as they were pretty nervous and diving under water repeatedly. Once the first one was caught, the other two were netted within minutes and in the bins to transport them back to shore,” said Schoch. “It’s the first time we’ve had to net three loons out of the same puddle — it was very exciting!”

The loons were checked to be sure they were in good physical condition, then banded and transported to Lake Champlain for release in open water. One had completely molted out all its wing feathers, while the other two were already growing them back in. After release, the three loons quickly swam away from shore and then gathered together and began preening. They were likely very relieved to be out of their predicament.

The Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation thanked Roger and Wendy Saks for giving them access to the lake, Forest Ranger Matt Savarie, their biologist Emily Prosser, and volunteers Lance Durfey, Malinda and Glen Chapman, Tim Demers, and Ellie and Cal George for their assistance in this rescue.

The Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation is a 501(c)3 non-profit that conducts scientific research and engaging educational programming to promote and inspire passion for the conservation of Common Loons (Gavia immer) in and beyond New York’s Adirondack Park.

To learn more about the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation visit www.adkloon.org or www.facebook.com/adkloon, or contact info@adkloon.org or (518) 354-8636. The Adirondack Loon Center at 15 Broadway in Saranac Lake is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

A volunteer scoops up one of the loons. (Courtesy of The Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation)

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