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Research and Assessment Section
April 3, 2013
Loons and Lead Fishing Tackle - by Brad Allen, Bird Group Leader
This past winter Susan Gallo, Director of the Maine Loon Project with Maine Audubon summarized Maine loon mortality data over the last 25 years. Her report, the basis for Maine Audubon’s proposed legislation, “An Act to Protect Maine’s Loons by Banning Lead Sinkers and Jigs”, is quite telling. Lead poisoning is the leading cause of death in adult loons that have been recovered post-mortem in Maine. Lead-headed jigs make up the majority (58%) of the lead objects recovered in dead loons, followed by lead sinkers (32%).
Beginning in 1987, Maine Audubon has assisted in the recovery of dead loons from across the state. Inland Fisheries and Wildlife game wardens and biologists, volunteers, staff from Biodiversity Research Institute, park staff from Acadia, and others collected a total of 450 dead loons. We in the Bird Group send out a hearty THANK YOU for your recovery efforts and more detail on some of the loons recovered by IFW can be found by clicking on the following link: MDIFW Tracked Loons. All the dead loons were sent to Tufts University, where Dr. Mark Pokras and his associates conducted detailed necropsies to determine each loon’s cause of death. A brief summary of the findings is presented below.
Of the 450 loon carcasses examined from Maine, 60% were males and 40% were females, Most were adults and most were collected on freshwater ponds and lakes. Most carcasses were collected in the summer months, and collections peaked in August. Lead poisoning from lead sinkers and lead-headed jigs was the leading cause of death for otherwise healthy adult loons, responsible for at least 29% of the deaths. The other causes of death were fungal respiratory disease (11%), blunt trauma (9%), net or monofilament entanglement (4%) and other factors such as hook and fishing gear, drowning, starvation, infection, and gunshot. The exact cause of death in many cases could not be determined. In a similar study in New Hampshire, biologists there report that half of the dead loons they looked at died from lead poisoning.
There has been no change in the incidence of lead-related deaths since the ban on the sale of sinkers 0.5 ounce or less in 2002. Most of the jigs recovered from Maine’s loons were estimated to be between 1.25 and 2.5 inches long that weigh greater than 0.5 ounces. A ban on the use of jigs less than 2.5 inches could potentially prevent 94% of jig-related mortalities, or half of the loons lead poisoned over the last 25 years.
Lead is a toxic metal and exposure to it causes serious health issues. Lead has been killing wildlife for many decades, and was first documented as the cause of death in waterfowl in the U.S. in 1894. Since 1980, federal and state regulations have been established to eliminate lead from consumer products such as gasoline, paint, and waterfowl ammunition. National efforts to ban lead fishing tackle have not been successful. Maine, to its credit, banned the sale of lead sinkers one half ounce or less over ten years ago. Has this helped? We hope so, but more could be done. Adult loons catch fish with lost or broken lead sinkers, jigs and line or they accidently pick up lead objects while ingesting gravel from the lake bottom. Small stones or gravel in the loon’s gizzard aids the digestion of their food. Once ingested, lead objects dissolve quickly in loon gizzards, elevating lead levels in the blood which can ultimately lead to death within two weeks.
The good news is that alternative sinkers and the smaller jigs made from tin, bismuth, and tungsten are available from small-business manufacturers, retailers, and on-line. There is some concern that product lines for larger lead-free jigs may not be sufficient to provide anglers with desired products locally or at reasonable prices. But supply often follows demand; we’ll see how things turn out. For more information on this issue please visit maineaudubon.org. To report a sick or dead loon, please contact the Department at the following regional headquarters: (game wardens and biologists) Ashland 435-3231; Greenville 695-3756; Gray 657-2345 and additional regionals offices for biologists: Sidney: 547-5300; Enfield 732-4132; Jonesboro 434-5927 and Strong 778-3324.
February 27, 2013
Adventure, Bonding, and Butterflies - English Honors Assignment from Philip deMaynadaier's son Emmett deMaynadier.
Often in life you live through something with your friends or your family and then wish you could go back and film the whole thing so that you can live vicariously through the movie the rest of your life. Soon after though, you forget about the experience because you are busy or have an amazing time doing something else. Once in a long while though you will have a time in your life that you know will never be bested, it is something that will stay with you forever and will impact you in many ways. This is how I felt about my trip with my father to northern Maine in search of a rare butterfly.
My dad and I had planned to have an adventure for a while; I needed it because school was becoming too much, and my dad needed it because, well, it was his job. The trip began at the house with the loading of the canoe and packing of our camping gear. And even after everything was packed there is the process of getting my father out of the house. You would think that with all the chores parents have they would be out of the house as fast as they can, but as per usual my dad was painstakingly slow with getting into the car. Eventually though, I had pulled him into the vehicle and we were ready to start on our way. We both felt the lifting of stress from our shoulders as we left the driveway and headed north.
There is something magical about going through Maine towards the north. The houses slowly start to yield to woods, towns become fewer and smaller, and the landscape slowly becomes more and more beautiful. I slipped Bob Marley and The Wailers into the CD player and we just relaxed and took it all in. I started to ask my dad about the butterfly we were in search of and he explained that it would be the first time one was ever found in the United States since it was only known from northeast Canada, which is why we would have to go so far north to find it. He told me that he was confident that it was there and since he thinks so I trust him, but we will have some fun before we start working.
Once you leave Greenville at the southern tip of Moosehead Lake you know you’re leaving civilization behind for better things. We stopped at a little mom and pop house of pancakes for brunch and then headed up to our next destination, Kokadjo. Kokadjo is where my dad and I start most excursions to the north woods and it is a wonderful place. We pass the classic “Welcome to Kokadjo, Population: Not Many” sign and pull into the general store/restaurant/real-estate/post-office/telephone booth parking lot and get out of our over-filled car.
Our objective at this point is to pack up the canoe with two days of supplies and canoe down the Roach River to Fox and Salmon islands to spend a few nights camping on Moosehead Lake. After loading up the canoe with supplies and shuttling the car to our take-out spot with one of the local Kokadjo hunting guides we bring our canoe down to the water. I’d done a few canoe trips with my dad before that time, but never class II or III rapids like the Roach River. I was excited and a little scared, but I trusted my dad to keep us afloat and as he said “the worst that can happen is we get a little wet.”
We pushed off and immediately felt the power of the water moving us along. We hadn’t traveled very far before we hit some rapids and my dad pulled us to the side and explained to me that I had two jobs; one was to yell out where rocks were and the other was to keep us from hitting rocks at the last minute if I didn’t see them. I said all right, it seemed simple enough, and we started into the rapids and I soon learned it was far from an easy task. The cries of “ROCK LEFT!” and “ROCK RIGHT” soon turned into “ROCK RIGHT AHEAD, oh s***, BRACE YOURSELF!!”
Luckily though, we made it through with only a few scrapes and once we were on the other side of that set of rapids we stopped on the bank and had a snack of cheese and crackers. Soon however we were off again and I was back to my tiring and basically impossible job, eventually I took to just yelling “ROCKS EVERYWHERE” and fending them off myself from the front of the canoe. We made it to the end of the river in once piece, though we left a fair amount of green paint behind on the rocks.
Once out of the river we canoed along the shore of Moosehead Lake until reaching Fox Island. We staked out a campsite and started setting up gear, the sun started to set and it was dark by the time we had the fire going. My dad and I went skinny dipping and then we warmed ourselves by the fire. We then climbed into our sleeping bags after a hard day’s work. It was a night of quiet (except for the loons) and bonding that I’ll never forget as long as I live.
The next day we woke up and broke camp, ready for the long trip up to northern Maine in search of the Short-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio brevicauda). We canoed to shore and loaded everything into the car, turned on the radio and started north. Once you pass Kokadjo Maine becomes a very different world. There are more moose than people and a house is a rare and special thing. That far north you find camps, wardens, and the occasional outdoorsman who lives off the land.
We went up and up navigating the deteriorating roads as I watched our position on the map slowly rise. Finally we got into Fort Kent that afternoon and had some lunch. We then headed over to a botanical lead my dad had about Cow Parsnip, the only plant that the rare butterfly we were looking for ate as a caterpillar.
We drove up a dirt road to find a driveway almost completely grown over with trees. “You’re sure this is it dad?” I ask.
We start the trip up the path, trees scraping the sides of our car and the bottom of the canoe strapped above us. All of a sudden the trees opened up as though parted by Moses and we came upon a self-sufficient homestead. There was a windmill, many solar panels and a pile of wood. The house was large and there was a big garage with power tools and all-terrain vehicles. A man drives up on a John Deere tractor and starts talking to my dad.
We are welcomed into the home and are introduced to the man’s wife. She is an elderly woman who hobbles towards us, very excited to see my father who is the state expert on butterflies, dragonflies, herptiles, and other strange creatures. It turns out she has a few specimens for him to look at. As they go into another room I start to take it all in. There is a large flat-screen T.V. with piles of DVDs and movies (no cable out here) and shelves upon shelves of field-guides and research texts.
The woman comes back with my dad very pleased and he says it’s time for them to show us the Cow Parsnip patch. They take us down some dirt trails on their ATV’s after we get our nets, collecting jars and envelopes for specimens from the car. Once there I can see my dad is very excited and wants to start collecting immediately, but first the woman asks him what he’s looking for. He explains that right now we are most likely to find the caterpillar on the host plant and so he’ll be looking under a lot of leaves. To demonstrate, he bends down and turns over the leaf of the nearest Cow Parsnip plant to show where they could be.
“Would you look at that!” he exclaims, “this might be it!” Crazily enough it is! We found a national record butterfly on our first plant! We were really excited and continued to search thousands of leaves for the next three days in various Cow Parsnip patches of northern Maine. But oddly enough we didn’t find another specimen the whole time we were there! If we hadn’t checked that first plant the whole trip would have been nothing but an adventure, but with this discovery we were able to make a significant scientific contribution.
We stayed in a hunting cabin for the rest of the trip and had time to reflect and relax after an exciting and fun excursion. The car-ride back home was uneventful, but it was my job to keep watch on the caterpillar and make sure it was eating and healthy. Our objective was to let it hatch into a butterfly (after pupating) so as to get the final species confirmation since the caterpillar resembles that of the common Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes). Passing through Kokadjo that afternoon my dad used the phone booth to call his butterfly contact in Canada, something pretty different and interesting to me, and then we headed all the way back home.
That trip to northern Maine will stay with me for my whole life: whether it is the memory of the roaring waters of the river, or just taking a nap under the shade of a dense Cow Parsnip stand in the sunshine. Throughout the trip my dad and I connected in a way that we couldn’t have in our own home. The sharing of intense experiences is the best way to learn about another person, and my father and I learned a lot about each other on this trip. I’ll miss those carefree days, but I know that if school ever becomes too much we can retreat into the wilderness again.
November 14, 2012
Casco Bay Shorebird Surveys – by Lindsay Tudor
During August and September, wildlife biologists from Bangor’s Research and Assessment Section and Gray’s Region A office spent many hours in a 21-foot boat circling Casco Bay’s islands and ledges, peering through binoculars and counting roosting shorebirds. The purpose of this effort was to identify and map previously unknown shorebird areas for oil spill contingency planning.
Sandpipers - Photo courtesy of Maine Seaduck Guide Service
Maine supports over 25 species of shorebirds (e.g. sandpipers, plovers, dowitchers, etc) during their fall migration from Arctic breeding grounds to southern wintering areas. During migration, shorebirds congregate along Maine’s coastal areas. Adult shorebirds arrive in Maine beginning mid-July through end of August. Young of the year shorebirds arrive later, beginning mid-August through end of September. Although shorebirds are seen throughout the summer and fall, individuals stay only 10-20 days, feeding on intertidal invertebrates. During that short period, each bird must double its body weight to acquire the fat reserves needed to fuel a non-stop, transoceanic flight to South America – a distance of 2,000 miles or more. Whether or not these global travelers are successful in completing their long journey is largely dependent on the quantity and quality of feeding and roosting habitats along the Maine Coast.
Sandpipers - Photo courtesy of Maine Seaduck Guide Service
With funding support from Department of Environmental Protection’s Surface Water Fund, MDIFW biologists conducted 15 boat surveys covering every ledge and island exposed during high tide in Casco Bay. Over 5,000 shorebirds were documented using 72 island/ledge complexes for roosting. Four island/ledge clusters supported the majority of these birds. These areas were located relatively close to the feeding flats. Shorebirds need to conserve energy, thus, having roosting areas in close proximity to feeding areas is key to their success.
July 25, 2012
Relocating Rare Mussels on the Penobscot River - Written by Beth Swartz, Reptile, Amphibian and Invertebrate Group
The Penobscot River Restoration Project (http://www.penobscotriver.org/) is underway and Great Works Dam in Bradley is slowly coming down. While this may be good news for anadromous fish like salmon, sturgeon, and shad, the impoundment’s freshwater mussel population will take a big hit as the water permanently recedes and huge numbers of mussels are left stranded out of water to perish. Fortunately, most species occur in great abundance, and those animals that remain watered should continue to thrive and repopulate the new free-flowing river channel. However, the Penobscot River is also home to Maine’s rarest species of freshwater mussels - the yellow lampmussel, tidewater mucket, and brook floater.
Yellow Lampmussels relocated from Penobscot River - photos are by Ethan Nedeau.
In order to reduce the loss of these state-Threatened mussels as much as possible during the dam removal process and ensure their future in the restored river reach, MDIFW and the Penobscot River Restoration Trust (PRRT) have worked closely together to devise a recovery and relocation plan for rare mussels that would be directly affected. The Trust also hired Ethan Nedeau of Biodrawversity, an ecological consultant with vast experience in mussel surveys and relocations, to coordinate development and implementation of the plan and undertake the actual recovery effort. So far, Ethan and his crew - with a little bit of help from MDIFW and PRRT staff and volunteers, have moved over 250 yellow lampmussels and 2 tidewater muckets from dewatering areas of the impoundment to areas just upriver that remain safe for mussels. Another 40+ yellow lampmussels and 1 tidewater mucket were relocated from just below the dam prior to deconstruction activities. As much as is feasible, common species are being given a helping hand into deeper water.
L. ochracea (shell profile). Photo by Ethan Nedeau
The thoroughness of this conservation effort puts into perspective how uncommon these species are in relation to other mussel species co-occurring in the impoundment whose populations number in the thousands and tens of thousands. As the water level continues to drop, efforts to relocate rare mussels will also continue. Each individual found will be tagged, measured, and photographed before being moved to relocation plots near French Island in Milford. These animals will then be monitored over the coming years to see if the relocation was successful and inform our understanding of the best methods for protecting rare mussels that need to be moved out of harm’s way.
Penobscot River mussel relocation - Photo by Cheryl Daigle
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