After a very long winter, spring has finally arrived in the Lakes Region, bringing with it the opportunity to shake off the winter blues and get out to enjoy some of the many outdoor activities available on our doorstep. Being somewhat frugal by nature (i.e., cheap), I naturally gravitate towards activities that are fun but relatively inexpensive —such as paying a visit to the Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary in Moultonborough.
Like many other people, I appreciate the striking black-and-white coloring of loons and enjoy listening to their distinctive sounds as they call out to each other on the lakes. I also admire their ability to dive and swim great lengths underwater before resurfacing some distance away, and I always enjoy having the opportunity to learn more about (and perhaps catch a glimpse of) these ancient birds.
The Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary is located on Lee’s Mills Road on 200 acres of land situated along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. The land, including 5,000 feet of shoreline, was donated to the Loon Preservation Committee in the early 1990s by summer resident Frederick Markus in memory of his wife, Paula.
The wildlife sanctuary features two walking trails that are open year-round to the public, from dawn to dusk, free of charge. The Forest Trail is a short, 10-minute loop through mixed woods. The Loon Nest Trail covers about 1.7 miles and takes you to the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee where you might find a pair of nesting loons in season. This trail takes about an hour to complete. Both trails are scenic and relatively easy, although good footwear and bug spray are recommended.
The Loon Center building serves as the headquarters of the Loon Preservation Committee, a self-funded project of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire. The building also features a large display/lecture area and a nature store, the Loon’s Feather Gift Shop. The Center and the shop are open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday – Saturday, during the months of May and June, as well as from Columbus Day until Dec. 31. From July 1through Columbus Day weekend, the Center is open daily from 9 to 5. From Jan. 2to the end of April, the center is open from 9 to 5, Thursday – Saturday. There is no admission charge to the center.
At the Loon’s Feather Gift Shop, you can shop for “all things loon” — including mugs, shirts, ornaments, cards, books, tapes, videos, and other loon-oriented souvenirs. Additionally, you can order a limited number of items from the online store from their website at www.loon.org.
From the informative displays and videos in the center’s meeting room (as well as the Loon Center’s website), I have learned that loons are a very ancient species. The Common Loon, the only species of loon that breeds in New Hampshire, is thought to have been on earth in its present form for more than 22 million years. The typical lifespan of a loon, barring unforeseen encounters with predators, motor boats, and lead sinkers, is 25 – 30 years.
Loons return each spring from their winter habitats at the ocean to freshwater lakes once the ice is out to choose mates and nesting sites. By June, one or two eggs have been laid, with the nest tended by both parents. In July, the chicks are hatched and, after about 12 weeks, the young loons are able to dive and feed on their own.
In the fall, the loons return to the open water of the ocean. Juvenile loons stay at the ocean for three or four years before returning to the freshwater lakes to begin the breeding cycle again. Some loons return to the same nesting sites year after year but many do not, and they don’t always stay with the same mate from the year before.
During the summer months, the center holds a free Nature Talk Series every Thursday evening at 7:30, this year starting on July 11 and running through Aug. 29. Topics this year will include loons, butterflies, moose, river otters, bald eagles, the history of New Hampshire wildlife, and the preliminary results of the annual loon census season report. Although the programs are free, donations are appreciated.
Formed in 1975 after a group of concerned citizens noticed an alarming decline in the loon population on area lakes, the Loon Preservation Committee conducts an annual statewide loon census every July to count how many adult loons, juveniles, immatures, and chicks there are on as many lakes as possible throughout the state in an effort to help determine the health of the loon population. This year, the loon census will run from 8 to 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 20, followed by the annual Loon Festival at the center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The festival features games, children’s activities, free food, and nature exhibits, free to the public. Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the census can contact the Loon Center at 476-LOON (5666).
Since the census monitoring first began in 1975, the loon population in New Hampshire has more than doubled, with the numbers for 2012 showing significant positive increases in almost all areas compared to data averaged from 2005-2009. Much of this success can be attributed to the efforts of volunteers and staff members of the LPC who, in addition to building and maintaining floating rafts for nesting loons with warning signs and ropes, teach the public about loons with numerous public presentations at schools, professional meetings, lake associations, and other venues.
The LPC also has been working with other conservation groups to generate support for environmental legislation, including a bill currently before the NH House of Representatives (SB 89) that would protect the state’s loon population by prohibiting the use and sale of lead fishing sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less. According to the LPC, the use of lead sinkers by fishermen is the largest known cause of New Hampshire adult loon mortality, with 124 adult loons dying from lead poisoning between 1989 and 2011.
In addition to the annual Loon Census and Festival, the Loon Center also holds several other special events throughout the summer, including the annual Summer Luncheon and Benefit Auction on June 30 at Church Landing in Meredith; a “Kayak-A-Thon on July 12 from Lee’s Mills to help support loon preservation in New Hampshire; a fundraising swim across the length of Squam Lake on Aug. 2; and the annual Carl R. Johnson Memorial Golf Tournament in Moultonborough on Aug. 19. For more information about any of these events, contact the Loon Center at 603-476-5666 or log on to www.loon.org .
The Loon Center once again will be co-sponsoring Loon Cruises on Squam Lake with the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center on Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. in June, July, and August. The cruises, on comfortable, all-weather pontoon boats, last about 90 minutes and a Loon Center biologist will be on board. Cruises leave from the Science Center’s dock on Route 3 in Holderness; costs are $23 for adults, $21 for seniors, and $19 for children. You can contact the Science Center at 968-7194 for more information and to obtain tickets.
The Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary are located on Lee’s Mills Road in Moultonborough. From Route 25, turn onto Blake Road next to the Moultonborough Central School, go for one mile to the end, and turn right onto Lee’s Mills Road. For more information about the Loon Center or how to become a volunteer with the Loon Preservation Committee, call 476-5666 or log on to www.loon.org.