The phone has been ringing more than usual this fall about loons becoming stuck in small open areas of water as the lakes freeze. With the early cold weather, some loons just do not leave in time. Usually these loons are chicks of the year (juveniles) who have to figure out migration on their own. The parents likely left in October or early November.
We are currently monitoring loons on Harvey’s Lake in Barnet, Maidstone Lake, and Sunset Lake in Benson. Despite being a seasonal employee, I’m always on call for things like this although I will definitely enlist the help of VFWD game wardens and local fire departments looking to practice ice-rescues. The key part is to be safe. Sometimes we can help and sometimes these loons just won’t make it.
If a loon becomes ice-bound
The first thing is to monitor the bird. Eric Hanson of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) often coordinates these efforts. When ice forms around the loon and the area becomes too small for the loon to take flight, the bird will usually just stay put swimming about keeping the ice open. Loons ideally need several 100 meters or more to take-off. Eventually the hole might only be a few feet across. Loons can go a week or more without much food, so we have time. Eventually the hole will freeze over and the loon will sit on its belly on the ice. If the ice is 3 inches thick, this is when we go after the loon with a big net and box ready for transport to Lake Champlain. We’ll also wear life jackets and dry suits. If the ice is not thick enough, we need to wait a bit longer. We’ll contact the local game warden so they know there is an ice bound loon being monitored.