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Perseverance: A Lesson For Loon Rangers

In spring 2011, Janet Oatman called me from Smoky Lake in the U.P. and asked what she should do about her Artificial Nesting Island (ANI), blown from its original position by high winds, during nesting. (We agreed to leave it alone, and not disturb them further, especially since the loons had not given up the nest). However, during our discussion, I learned from Janet that the Smoky Lake ANI was installed for 7 consecutive years before being occupied by the lake’s resident loon pair. I thought her story of perseverance and patience would be an inspiration to many Loon Rangers who have placed ANIs and become discouraged by the lack of results, so I asked if she would write it. She agreed, and her story, with picture, is below… Jeff Lange

Loons had been nesting on Smoky Lake 30 years ago, but with lake level fluctuation and increased shoreline use the nesting spots had disappeared.  I had read about loon nesting platforms and how to construct them.  It looked easy, just 4 logs, some chicken wire and some vegetation. A permit was required.

So 18 years ago I contacted Paul Busch of the Michigan DNR and he came out and surveyed the lake with my husband and me, selected an appropriate site and gave us permission to put out an artificial nesting island (ANI).  His guidelines were that the site be as sheltered from the wind as possible and on the west side of the lake so as to be protected from the sun late in the day.  We filled out the forms and by the spring of 1994 the nest platform with all its trimmings was in the water.


The next question was: How long would it take to be noticed? The next year a duck built up a shoddy nest in the center and laid a few eggs but then disappeared. The vegetation on the platform was beginning to take hold and we even had a small shrub, an evergreen and a few flowers blooming making it look attractive to us, but apparently not to the loons.

Finally, 7 years later, in June of 2000, a pair of loons built up a sturdy nest in the center of the ANI and laid 2 dark brown eggs.  After 31 days of incubating, the eggs did not hatch and the loons abandoned the nest. There were no eggs or shell pieces found in the empty nest.  One of the lake residents had noticed that fishermen liked to cast over and under the nest, often disturbing the birds.

The next year the loons again nested and in order to ward off the fishermen we put buoys around the nest. Installing buoys required a permit from the DNR and permission from the owner of the land that fronted the nest. The buoys themselves had to be of specific design warning of a loon nesting area.

In summer of 2001 one egg hatched. Unfortunately the chick met with a boating accident over the weekend of the 4th of July when it was only 6 days old. The loon parents were distraught, and so were we.

On June 29, 2002 we had our first success. One chick hatched and successfully fledged.

In 2003, two eggs were laid two days apart. The first chick hatched June 4th and the second on June 6th. One parent stayed on the nest while the other stayed close by with the first chick in the water for that 48-hour span. Both chicks successfully fledged.

Since then the loons have used the nest each year.  Over the 12 years beginning in 2000 they have successfully fledged 13 new loons.  All the lake homeowners have a feeling of pride and accomplishment and a loon report is presented at each annual meeting.

Janet Oatman
Loon Ranger
Smoky Lake, Upper Peninsula

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One response to “Perseverance: A Lesson For Loon Rangers

  1. Inspiring article!

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