The Loon Ranger Program

The loon ranger program is an outgrowth of "Loonwatch," a concept organized by Northland College which involves several hundred volunteer scientists who monitor the status of our Wisconsin loon population. I became a Loon Ranger in 2011 and, at the time, I knew two things about loons: 1) they have an instinctive ability to be able to know the exact date when the ice leaves their lake, allowing a safe return, and 2) they mate for life. From further study, I was wrong on both counts! The trained Loon Rangers provide the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with the knowledge they glean from their observations on Wisconsin and Minnesota lakes. This knowledge includes information on behavior, mating, territory, and loon populations. One of the first things the rangers learn is that the Common Loon, the sole loon species in the Midwest, is not quite so common after all, but is an extremely complex creature.

There are a variety of things we can do as users of our state's wonderful lake system that will enhance and promote the success of our loon population. First, because lake water quality can be as subtle as changing the "pH" balance of the water chemistry, lake riparian owners can make positive strides by trying to limit soil and fertilizer nutrients through natural gardening techniques, and by planting shoreline buffer plantings which can absorb a great deal of the unwanted run-off. Second, because lead poisoning is always a concern as loons naturally ingest pebble-sized material to assist their digestion process, anglers should be aware of the detriments of lead-shot products (sinkers), take extra precaution with their use, and seek out possible alternative products. Third, respecting nesting loon's privacy is of paramount importance. While incubating their eggs, loons are naturally protecting those eggs from predators. If humans get too close and cause an anxious loon to hurriedly depart from the nest, either predation or an accidental "toss of the egg into the water" can occur. Finally, aggressive boating in a nesting area can result in swamping of the nest with the same result as the "egg toss."

I have learned so much during the five years that I have been a Loon Ranger and each year I learn more about what I didn't know. The continued support of loon research programs through the DNR and other volunteer programs should be encouraged; so at night while you are sitting on the porch or around the campfire, listen to the wail call of the loon as it says, "Where are you? I'm over here." Who doesn't love and always remember that haunting, romantic cry?

Loon Ranger Linda Pils