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Adirondack loon program looking for funding

June 29, 2013
By MIKE LYNCH - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

A loon monitoring program is in danger of not being fully funded this summer.

Nina Schoch, who heads Biodiversity Research Institute's Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation in Ray Brook, said the program started the season short $35,000 that usually goes toward paying summer field staff.

Because of that shortfall, Schoch has been making a push to raise more money. In the past week, she has been able to raise about $15,000, but she still needs about $20,000 for field monitors. Those numbers don't even take into account funding that is needed for the year-round staff that includes Schoch and one other staff member.

Article Photos

Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Former forest ranger Gary Lee holds an adult loon under a towel last July at Lake Colby boat launch in Saranac Lake. The loon’s blood and feathers were sampled as part of a long-term study on the birds.

Schoch said the shortfall exists because private donations from individuals and businesses, along with grants from foundations, are down in comparison to the past. To make up for the lack of funding, Schoch applied for a larger than usual New York State Energy Research and Development Authority grant. She received $40,000, but that was about half of what she applied for.

The funding that Schoch is in the process of raising now would pay two full-time seasonal workers and seven part-time ones.

"The primary thing they do is monitor the loons on a weekly basis, and identify (and) see if the banded loons are returning," Schoch said. "All of them have worked with me for several years, and some of them have been with me for 10-plus years. They are all very well trained in data collection and observation of the banded loons and identifying the banded birds. To lose that skill is huge."

The field workers gather information on things such as where loons are nesting and how many eggs get laid, how many chicks hatch and how many chicks survive.

"That information has really let us document if the high mercury birds are reproducing at a higher rate than the lower mercury birds," Schoch said.

According to the center's website, the program's focus is to do "research to determine the status of and trends in the Adirondack breeding loon population, to assess the impact of mercury contamination on this population's reproductive success, and to identify the migratory patterns and wintering areas of Adirondack loons. This work is coordinated with similar research throughout northeastern North America to determine the effect of mercury contamination on the breeding loon population throughout the region."

A study released in 2012, that was prepared for NYSERDA, found that Adirondack loons with high levels of mercury in their system produced 40 percent less young than healthy birds. Loons with high mercury levels also exhibited abnormal behavior.

Field monitors help the loon program keep tabs on about 90 lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks. In the past, more than 60 water bodies were checked on a weekly basis for birds, while another 30 were checked intermittently.

In addition to the hired field monitors, volunteers and in-kind workers from Paul Smith's College and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry also provide assistance.

Another duty of the field workers is to assist rescues of injured loons.

"We are often called on numerous occasions to assist with a bird that is caught in fishing line and other calamities," Schoch said. "Sometimes they get blown down in a storm or they are just sick and dying from something. Sometimes, trauma from another loon or sometimes lead poisoning from ingesting lead fish and tackle."

People interested in learning about the loon program, including how to contribute to it, can visit

Schoch noted that the page has information on the program's first-ever loon quilt raffle. Tickets are $5 each or six for $25. Schoch will be holding the raffle drawing on Oct. 13 at the Paul Smith's College VIC, as part of the organization's first Adirondack loon celebration.

If people would like to meet with Schoch to discuss their support and a possible five-year pledge, or would like additional information about the group's work, they can contact Schoch by phone at 888-749-5666 x145 or email at

Despite the shortfall in funds this season, Schoch said she is very thankful for all the money various individuals and organizations have given the loon program.

"They've been really generous and we're very thankful for all the support we get from the foundations, NYSERDA and the private donors," Schoch said. "We wouldn't have been able to do this work as long as we have without their support."



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