In early August I got a call from Christine Almose of Kalkaska County’s Blue Lake. She’s worried that her male loon has a hook in its mouth because it’s trailing a long fishing line strand and seems to have difficulty eating. Do I know anyone who can help? I do but they live in the U.P. After a long discussion I suggest that if we’re going to do something, it has to be soon because I’m due to leave for a week to visit my mom in Lake Placid. I agree to come down in two days.
Capturing a loon has to be done at night so they can’t see what’s coming at them behind the bright light; also the loon has to have chicks to care for so they will respond to chick-begging calls, which are played as you approach the loon parent. So, following a nighttime concert I played at Red Sky Stage in Petoskey, I left for Blue Lake at 9:30 PM; It was going to be a long night.
I arrived at Blue Lake to find Chris’ husband Randy on the lake keeping tabs on the male. He docks to pick us up, and we begin a fruitless several hours chasing and attempting to catch the stricken bird using powerful spotlights Randy had had overnight-shipped, and a long handled salmon net. Nighttime or not, chicks or not, this loon was not to be caught. We had him almost within swiping distance a couple of times, but he dove at the last second and foiled all our attempts. Ours was the third attempt to capture this male and I feared he was on to all the tricks by this time.
A week or so later, the loon still has trailing line, so I make a second trip down to Blue Lake, but this rescue attempt fails even more miserably than the first. A week or so after that, Joe Kaplan, who’s banding loons next door in Antrim County on lakes managed by Peg Comfort of Loon Network, calls to see if I’d like to meet him that night to try to catch the Blue Lake loon again. With the prospect of having the most skilled loon catcher in the state in the boat, I readily agree.
Three hours on the lake futilely trying to catch a loon that simply refuses to be caught proves that even having the most skilled loon catcher in the state in the boat isn’t even enough to extricate this loon from its troublesome fishing tackle. As a last-ditch effort to lure the loon father, Joe captures one of the two chicks, easily lured to the net, and we sit in the dark a few moments while the chick utters soft calls for help. Neither parent shows any interest in coming to the aid of their kidnapped offspring. That being the final straw, we motor to shore, band and take blood and feather samples from the chick, and gently release it back into the care of its parents. We all go separate ways feeling disappointed and with the knowledge that if this loon doesn’t manage to disentangle himself, it will likely end badly.
A week or so later still, I’m contacted by Ellen Whitehead, (she’d bought two loon alert buoys from me a couple years back) who reports a wounded loon, also in Kalkaska County. What makes her think it’s wounded? The loon keeps going ashore, she says. Is that normal? Not really, but not unheard of either. It’s been fighting with her resident male, and getting the worst of it. Every time it enters the water again, it gets attacked by that lake’s resident male. When she calls back to say it looks like it has fishing line in its bill, it all starts to make sense. The Blue Lake loon story isn’t over after all. I advise her to try to catch it next time it goes to land, by approaching from the lake and cutting off its escape. She, and her team of helpers, manage to catch the loon, which doesn’t after all have a hook in its bill, but a fishing leader wrapped around its tongue, down deep in its throat. It was tricky, she said, but they got it all out. After hanging up, it occurs to me too late to advise her to not release the loon back in the territory of its attacker. So she calls back later to report the loon on shore again after another fight. I ask if she knows Chris Almose. She does, and agrees to have them come and pick up the loon once she re-captures it. Capture and transfer successful, I finally sigh with relief, knowing all that could be done has been done, and knowing the stricken male is now back on its home lake, where it can recover in relative peace.
This story shows the importance of a region-wide Loon Network, where people can respond and cooperate to help loons in trouble. Most importantly, to know who to contact to get things done. Michigan Loonwatch, Loon Network, LoonCorps, and Common Coast, though separate entities, must exist more as a team so the right organization(s) can respond to issues such as this. Every single person involved in this story was a necessary link that eventually resulted in saving this tangled loon before he left for parts unknown, and never seen again.
Chris says the loon spent three days on its breeding lake after being rescued before leaving on his migration. So we’re pretty confident he’ll be okay. Blue Lake people who also assisted in the capture/release of this loon were: Pat & Randy Lippe, Ken Miller, Keith & Connie Dersham, and Suzanne LeClaire.