Tracking the loon population at Prince Albert National Park

WATCH: Shannon Poppy on how people can get involved in counting the loon population at Prince Albert National Park.

An opportunity is been given to nature lovers to help count the loon population at Prince Albert National Park in northern Saskatchewan.

Those taking part in the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey will help scientists track and report on the health of Canada’s lakes while practicing citizen science.

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“All you need is to be able to recognize a common loon and a small commitment of your time,” said Shannon Poppy, a resource management officer and co-ordinator of the survey.

“This is a unique opportunity for nature lovers to get outdoors and enjoy what the park has to offer while contributing to a national study.”

Lynn Gorecki took part in the survey in 2018 for the first time.

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“We saw only one loon and no young during all the counts last year,” Gorecki said.

“That was not surprising as there is a lot of boat activity on (Hanging Heart Lake) but loons are common in other areas of the park.”

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Gorecki said the bird’s haunting call and iconic stature is one reason she started taking part in the survey.

“I love the calls loons make. They are a beautiful bird and an icon in Canada,” Gorecki said.

“We were thrilled to hear a loon during our first evening at the cabin this spring.”

The Canada-wide study started in 1981 to track the reproductive success of the common loon by monitoring chick hatch and survival, which can be affected due to mercury pollution and acid precipitation.

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Data collected to date suggests reproduction rates of the loon has declined over the last 32 years, officials said, but there has been a slight increase at Prince Albert National Park.

“Loons are apex predators, making them ideal indicators of ecosystem health,” Poppy said.

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“The presence of breeding pairs can be indicative of lakes with high fish productivity, water quality and low bioaccumulation of toxins and human disturbance.”

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Human activity also impacts the loon population.

“I am concerned about the loons on lakes like McPhee where boating activity has increased. Last year, we did observe four to five pairs nesting by McPhee Lake and there were four surviving young,” Gorecki said.

“In 2016 and 2017, there were no young observed.”

Prince Albert National Park officials said the first survey is in June to see if loon pairs are at any of the park lakes in the survey.

Additional surveys are then carried out in July to see if chicks hatched, and then in August to see if the chicks survived long enough to fledge.

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Poppy said people interested in ecosystem health and who like spending time on the water are encouraged to participate in the count, and there is no commitment to completing all the surveys.

“If you feel you might not be able to do the survey more than once throughout the summer, we can co-ordinate the work with other volunteers from the group,” Poppy said.

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She added people can do more than one survey each month.

“You can do more surveys each month if you wish, but there should be at least 14 days between each survey so that each time period has been well represented.”

There is no cost for volunteers taking part in the loon survey at Prince Albert National Park.

More information can be found online at Parks Canada.

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