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Tangled loon rescued

August 4, 2012
By LISA M. HOFFMANN - Staff Writer , The Daily News

FELCH - A loon entangled in fishing line was rescued from Groveland Mine Pond in Dickinson County by volunteers, and it was successfully rehabilitated and released.

Phyllis Carlson of Quinnesec, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, said while out kayaking in the northern part of the county in late July, she received a voicemail from the Iron Mountain Animal Hospital and the Dickinson County Sheriff's Office regarding a loon that was in distress at the Groveland Mine Pond in Felch.

A loon is a large diving waterbird with a black or grey head and pointed bill. Loons also have short legs set far under the body. They breed by lakes in northern latitudes and having wailing calls.

Article Photos

After talking with those at the boat launch and searching for the loon, Carlson said it was not able to be located.

So Joe Kaplan of Escanaba, a research biologist for birds for a nonprofit organization called Common Coast Research & Conservation, Walt Summers of Iron Mountain and the Michigan Loon Watch program, and Art Belding of Norway, the Michigan Loon Watch program and Common Coast Research & Conservation formed a plan to find the loon after dark with a spotlight.

Kaplan located the loon and managed to catch by temporarily blinding it using his spotlight.

Carlson said they were able to get the fishing line that was wrapped around the loon's beak and body removed.

"There was not a lot damage because it was not there long," said Carlson. "They treated it, banded it and released it. It spread its wings a couple of times and it seemed like, 'Wow, I am free.'"

Carlson added that so far there are no residual problems with that loon.

Recently in Iron County, there was a loon on Sunset Lake with a fishing hook stuck in it.

Kaplan said the loon had a hook in its mouth and fishing line wrapped around its bill and body.

A local fisherman was able to catch and net the loon.

A veterinarian from Iron River removed the fishing line and hook and released the loon.

That loon seems to be doing OK as well.

Carlson also said a few years ago, a loon died from having fishing line in it on a lake in Hermansville.

"The Hermansville loon died because of the fishing line. It was only a couple of years old and had been banded at Seney," Carlson said. "The loons at Groveland and Sunset Lakes were very lucky to get found and cared for early before too much damage occurred."

Kaplan added he once saved a bird in Canada that has lost half its body weight.

"The bird came back the next year and breed," he said.

Banding loons

Banding helps wildlife officials identify and gain knowledge about the loons.

Loons are banded with a colored band on one leg and silver band on the other leg.

There are two types of bands - a one inch square with colors on it and a similar band with a computer chip fastened to a regular band.

"When the loon goes south and then returns, we can look at the colored band's chip with a pair of binoculars and tell if it is the same one," Belding said.

Information from the computer chip can be downloaded to find out where the loon went.

The chip records sunrise, sunset, the date, the depth the loon goes, and whether the loon was in salt or fresh water.

"Using this information, we can determine where the loon went and how deep," Belding said.

When banded, Kaplan takes blood and feather samples and weighs the loons.

In the past couple years, loons have been banded on Fumee Lake and several other Dickinson County lakes.

Kaplan, who studies loons, said they have the ability to live 20 to 30 years. He said the oldest one he knows of is 25 years old and located at Seney.

Because loons eat fish, they are also a good indicator of the amount of mercury in lakes.

"When we hear of them being in distress, we make an attempt to untangle them," he said.

Wildlife Unlimited of Dickinson County gave Common Coast Research & Conservation a grant to fund research of loons in Dickinson County.

"We are trying to find out how many loons there are, how many have chicks, and are trying to band them to see what happens to them," Belding said.

Belding said when these bands started being used in the 1990s, wildlife officials found out a great deal about loons.

A purpose of banding loons is during migration to catch botulism in northern Lake Michigan.

"Thousand of loons and birds have died because of botulism, complication of zebra mussels and quatro mussels in the Great Lakes," Belding said.

Officials from the Common Coast Research & Conservation also take samples of loon feathers and blood to look for toxins like mercury, lead and other substances that might cause reproduction problems in loons.

"So far we have found some of the lakes around here have more mercury. Lake Antoine and Fumee Lake have less mercury than other nearby lakes," Belding said. "A lot of the mercury comes from cold-fired power plants. And if a lake is acid, the mercury is more poisonous, methyl mercury is more poisonous than mercury and can get in food chain and poison loons."

Fishing line, hooks

and lead weights

Carlson said that unfortunately loons getting entangled in fishing line or swallowing lead weights used for fishing happens more than it should.

"If fishermen would not leave spent line on the shore and not leave it in the water. Take it and make sure it gets in the garbage can," Carlson said. "Don't leave it floating."

Summers adds fishermen need to properly dispose of their fishing line.

"The bottom line is beware of what you are doing," he said. "If you don't throw plastic (fishing line, etc.) in the water, no animals will get in trouble. Anything plastic is an environmental disaster."

Carlson noted swallowed hooks and lead weights are also a problem.

"Just one lead weight can kill a bird if ingested," she said.

Also loons are not the only victims of fishing line and hooks that get left behind. Eagles, osprey and other animals are victims.

"I knew of one eagle that got a hook caught in its beak and it tried to rub it off with its foot. The hook got caught in the foot and the bird drowned holding its own head under the water," Carlson said. "The simple solution is for fisherman to not leave spent line in the water or on the ground."

Lisa M. Hoffmann's e-mail address is



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