Loons and Lead
Notebook friend Jane Naliboff is a writer, photographer and naturalist from Vienna, Maine, a town in the foothills of the state’s western mountains. She is a photo contributor for the dailybulldog.com, which covers news from Franklin County. Jane recently contacted us with a story about one of the animals she follows closely and photographs regularly: the common loon. This magnificent bird is regularly a victim of lead sinkers used by anglers fishing in lakes. Jane writes:
“According to the [Maine] Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, 30 percent of dead loons autopsied have evidence of lead poisoning, and death can occur within 5 to 10 days of ingestion. Buying or selling lead-based sinkers weighing one-half ounce or less has been illegal in Maine since 2002, but there is still a lot of lead in fly vests and tackle boxes. Think about all the split shot lost nymphing and the lead wire people still wrap streamers with and the effects on the ecosystem. Please, get rid of all of that old lead.”
According to a story last year in the New Hampshire Sentinel Source, “Loons typically ingest fishing tackle in one of three ways, said Harry S. Vogel, executive director and senior biologist for the [N.H.-based] Loon Preservation Committee. When an angler trolls a lead-headed jig through the water, loons will often strike at it out of instinct, he said. They also eat fish that have broken away from fishing line with a piece of lead tackle still hooked to them.
“Loons also routinely scoop and swallow small pebbles off the bottom of the lake to aid their digestion, often ingesting lead tackle by accident in the process, Vogel said.”
Jane was optimistic after the lead sinker was removed but says the loon “survived only a few more hours before succumbing to lead poisoning. Everyone did all they could, and we are all heartbroken.”
Like Jane, we were saddened by the news. Pamelia and I watch and listen to loons all the time in the waters in front of our house. When we were married by her late mother’s Maine cottage in 1995, a loon watched from surprisingly close range—a good omen, we figured. Just last Friday I saw a segment about loons on Maine Watch, a weekly public-affairs show on Maine Public Broadcasting. I learned, among other things, that loons are a bellwether for the presence of toxins such as mercury and lead in water and that if a loon ever bites you (an extremely improbable occurrence unless you’re a scientist trying to catch and band one), don’t try to pull your fingers out of its bill or you’re likely to get cut to the bone; they have sharp, serrated projections on the roof of their mouth and their tongue to prevent prey from escaping.
At the same time, notes Jane, who was able to pet the loon that Avian Haven tried to save, “Their heads are like velvet. And such sweet, sweet faces.” It haunts her that, a week after the loon died, she says, “the mate continues to call.”
We’ve talked quite a bit about ravens this summer because of Bernd Heinrich’s visit. The other night Notebook friend John Clark passed along this interesting photo:
Our Sustainable Food Friends Need a New Engine
We got an e-mail this week from Justin Cutter. He’s a leader of the Compass Green sustainable-farming team that drove its mobile greenhouse—a truck converted to run on vegetable oil, as you’ll see if you click on the short video above—to The Naturalist’s Notebook last summer. As many of you recall, Justin gave a fascinating talk on bio-intensive agriculture and how to build healthier soil. Here’s Justin’s update:
“I don’t know if you’ve gotten our newsletters, but things have been going pretty well since we saw you last. After a great spring tour with Compass Green in which we were able to teach almost 2,000 at-risk youth from low-income schools in California and the Midwest, we headed into our summer months with great excitement, as we were booked by Lollapalooza, one of the biggest music festivals in the country, to be one of their featured non-profit partners. At the beginning of August we had a bit of disaster strike us. We were on our way to Chicago for Lollapalooza, and our engine burned up. After towing it to a garage, getting it checked out and worked on, they thought they’d finally fixed the problem but when I drove away after 5 pm and it broke down again. I got it back to the shop and spent a crazy 13 hours assembling a huge container garden of vegetables, fruits, and herbs, and drove through the night in time to set up in Chicago for the festival. We ended up doing really well at the festival and teaching many people from our beautiful garden booth, despite the fact that our truck didn’t make it, so we were really happy to fulfill our commitment there. Since then though, I’ve been dealing with the truck and have finally started cancelling portions of our fall tour. It turns out that we need a new engine, and for a truck of that size it will cost almost $14,000. Whew.
“We are having an emergency fundraiser to get our truck back in action (right now we are short about $10,00),” Justin continued, “and we’re contacting everybody that has taking an interest in Compass Green to see if they’d be able to make a donation.”
The Naturalist’s Notebook is going to chip in, and we’re spreading the word in case any of you also wish to help the Mobile Greenhouse and get this important educational initiative rolling again. To donate money, go to: http://www.compassgreenproject.org/donate
All the Buzz
Somehow the video setting on one of our cameras got set so that videos come out partly in color and partly in black-and-white—a very odd effect. I happened to have that camera with me yesterday when I filmed this really loud bee working away in a rugosa rose blossom. Here’s the video:
This is what the bee and the flower actually looked like:
One Mystery Solved
That unidentified, hippo-faced caterpillar we showed you in the last blog post—and are showing you again, below—is no longer unidentified. As you may have seen in the comments section, blog follower Janice found it in the excellent book Caterpillars of Eastern North America, by David L. Wagner, and it is a white-blotched heterocampa (Heterocampa umbrata). Wagner writes that the caterpillar can have “a confusing array of patterns,” which makes me feel better about not knowing what it was.
Lost Toupee? No, Just A Hair-like Fungus
Cuttlefish and Clothing
One of the most amazing disguise artists in the animal world is the cuttlefish, which can transform its appearance almost instantly in a stunning variety of ways. Could that be the future of the clothing humans wear? Read on:
Answers to the Last Puzzlers
1) The insect in the photo is a two-striped grasshopper.
2) (The five-year-old’s riddle):
Q. What do you call the time in history when dinosaurs were eating candy?
A. The PEZ-a-zoic Era
A math quiz: How many nines are there between 1 and 100?