BEMIDJI, Minn. — Katie Haws will discuss one of the favorite birds in Minnesota’s lake country when she presents a Monday, Dec. 15, program on the common loon at 3 p.m. in the Bemidji State University Center for Research and Innovation, located at 3801 Bemidji Avenue North.
Part of the Bemidji Area Natural Resources Continuing Education Consortium series, the 60-minute presentation is open to the public at no charge.
The nongame wildlife specialist in the Northwest Region of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Haws plans to outline interesting facts about loon biology and describe the results of a 15-year study that focuses on detecting trends in loon occupancy and productivity throughout the state.
The Loon Monitoring Program has used volunteers to survey loon populations each year on 600 Minnesota Lakes since 1994. The loon counters head onto the lakes in early July, after chicks have hatched, to record numbers and other information on the bird. With an estimated 900 participants, the program is the third largest within the DNR for the number of individuals who assist at one of the agency’s 32 volunteer projects in the areas of information, education, ecological resources, enforcement and fisheries.
Minnesota has an abundance of the popular birds during the summer months when 12,000 make the state’s lakes their home. The number is more than all other states combined, excluding Alaska.
“Loons are really an indicator species,” Haws said. “The monitoring project is designed to detect any negative trends which may come about for a number of reasons, such as declining water quality, increased recreational pressure, or loss of habitat.”
Minnesotans had a special relationship with the loon even before it was designated the state bird by the Legislature in 1961. This relationship is particularly evident in lake country, where seasonal cabin owners and permanent residents regard the first haunting call of the distinctive black-and-white bird as the start of the lake season, much like people across the country see robins as the harbingers of spring. Visitors to state parks, campgrounds or resorts frequently seek sightings of the loon in flight, on a nest, or with their young as a treasured tradition of an annual vacation.
“Minnesota is known as a stronghold for the common loon,” Haws mentioned. “Loons are associated with the abundant lakes in the state and have been the focus of attention by the nongame program of the Department of Natural Resources for nearly 20 years.”
The monitoring program has shown the loon population as stable over time and has produced other valuable information, such as the value of water clarity to the bird. A diver that uses sight to hunt fish, loons thrive on clear lakes with abundant prey. Loons also nest only on undisturbed shorelines or islands with plenty of natural vegetation.
The program has provided data indicating that higher water clarity influences where loons choose to live. Nesting habitat is also affected by excessive boat traffic and wakes, loons are displaced by human residential activities, and chicks are endangered by careless boaters since they venture onto the lake soon after hatching.
Insights from the program’s data have ramifications for landscape planning and management of water quality on lakes.
“I hope that attendees will gain a greater appreciation of the biology of the common loon,” said Haws, who felt the presentation would appeal to the general public, members of lake associations, and biologists. “I also hope that we will have some time for discussion which would help me gather input on future study designs, note concerns that other observers might have for this species, and hear local anecdotes.”
Haws, who coordinates loon monitoring for two of the state’s six index areas, has been with the Minnesota DNR since 1982 and is currently working out of the Bemidji area. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in wildlife from the University of Minnesota and a master’s in wildlife science from the University of Washington.
The presentation is part of an on-going series of Bemidji Area Natural Resources Continuing Education Consortium programs usually offered on the third Monday of each month. While covering topics of general interest, the sessions are designed for professionals working in the natural resource area and may be technical in nature.
Groups participating in organizing the consortium include the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Chippewa National Forest, Leech Lake Division of Resource Management, Ainsworth, and the Red Lake Reservation.
Individuals who wish to be added to the Bemidji Area Natural Resources Continuing Education Consortium mailing list or have questions about this program should contact the Bemidji State University Center for Research and Innovation at (218) 755-4900; toll free, (888) 738-3224; email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or at the Web site www.cri-bsu.org.
FOR YOUR CALENDAR
Dec. 15 - 3 p.m. – Bemidji State University Center for Research and Innovation hosts Bemidji Area Natural Resources Continuing Education Consortium presentation on the Minnesota loon. Presenter: Katie Haws, nongame wildlife specialist in the Northwest Region of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Location: CRI; 3801 Bemidji Ave. N.; Bemidji, Minn. Cost: free. For information: (218) 755-4900; (888) 738-3224; http://www.cri-bsu.org.