West Hill Pond- Fishing Line Loon

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VLCP volunteer, Melissa Perley, holding the loon before fishing line removal and banding

Vermont Loon Conservation Project (VLCP) volunteer, Melissa Perley, kayaked up to one of the resident loons on West Hill Pond in Cabot yesterday and noticed it habitually shaking its head in one direction. Fishing line was coming out of its mouth. She knew who to call. This is the second loon in three years to ingest fishing line on this small pond in Cabot; the loon from two years ago died.

Melissa and her husband Paul were renting a place on the pond for the week away from their home in Berlin, VT. We tried a day capture in case it was weak but to no avail. On a positive note, the loon dove for well over 40 seconds indicating it had some strength left in it. They were willing to help me with a capture attempt last night on the last day of their vacation.

I always downplay the likelihood of success, but this loon proved cooperative. I called it the Derek Jeter pitch from the All Star game; this loon made it easy for me to net her. The loon floated in one place mesmerized by the spotlight and the wail calls I was playing. We know it’s a “her” because she weighed 4,500 grams, which is in the typical range of female weights for Vermont and Western New Hampshire female loons. Males in this region average 5,900 grams. Unfortunately, this loon had likely swallowed a hook and line with the leader partially down the throat. I was able pull the entire leader out before feeling resistance, and then snipped it free. Hopefully the hook will dissolve in the stomach acids and the line will pass without blocking the gut too much; time will tell. I’ve heard of a risky procedure where a loon is put to sleep and then has a breathing tube and a second small tube inserted down the throat to retrieve the fishing gear, but so far I’ve not heard of any local vets in Vermont willing to perform the procedure. Loons do not do very well in captivity anyway, and many loons have survived incidents such as this.   At least this loon is free swimming and can now swallow.

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Ready for release – photo by Melissa Perley

We’ll monitor the pond frequently in the coming weeks. Melissa and Paul can now write a unique “what did you do on your summer vacation” story about holding and getting pecked by a 10 pound bird. And anglers, reel in when loons are diving nearby. Thank you.

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