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Wild Kritters of Niagara comes to rescue

Sat, May 12th 2018 07:00 am
Al, a Wild Kritters licensed volunteer wildlife rehabilitator, with the injured loon. Loons can be rehabilitated, but have very specific needs and requirements. You cannot rehabilitate one in your backyard or pool, it will not survive. (Author photo)
Al, a Wild Kritters licensed volunteer wildlife rehabilitator, with the injured loon. Loons can be rehabilitated, but have very specific needs and requirements. You cannot rehabilitate one in your backyard or pool, it will not survive. (Author photo)
By Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
How often do you see or hear a common loon in Niagara County? Not often or never might be your answer.
If you ever heard their sounds calling to one another with their yodel, hoot, or wail you will recognize them from that. It can be heard from long distances at night across water and open fields. It is their way of communicating among family members and to maintain territories during the breeding season. It may sound odd to unsuspecting ears but it is pleasing.
Loons spend the winter season along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Some loons winter on inland reservoirs, then return to northern-forested lakes and rivers in the springtime, usually in April or early May.
When you look at a loon in the water, they don't appear as a big waterfowl as they are, but they measure 27 to 36 inches in length with a 50- to 58-inch wingspan. That's almost a 6-foot wingspan!
For a description, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation describes them in part: "this water bird is black-headed with a heavy, black, dagger-like bill, dark red eyes, a black collar, a white necklace, prominent white checks on the back, and white underpants. In non-breeding plumage, the body is essentially grayish above and whitish below with varying amounts of white showing on the side of the head. Dark traces of the collar are often visible."
The spring loon migration has started coming back here. Last week I got a phone call from one of my outdoor informants, Tony Mang. He called to tell me about a loon he picked up from a puddle near his house. He said he saw it struggling and thought maybe it was hurt. He asked what he should do with it and whom he should call. The first people I thought of were Wild Kritters of Niagara County. They are a non-profit group of state and federally licensed volunteers and can be contacted at 731-9334. Wild Kritters are wildlife rehabilitators and they'll know what to do.
When Mang spotted this guy struggling in the puddle he didn't realize that loons need a lot of deeper open water to land on and this loon was fooled thinking that puddle was big and deep enough to land on. Loons cannot walk on land. Think of a motorboat when it is trying to lift its nose out of the water. That motor on the back end has to push like hell to get the nose out of water, same as a loon with its feet hanging out the back end. Those two little webbed feet need to move like hell to lift the front, and then the back end up. When he/she landed it realized what had to be done, when it found out, it said, Oops, my mistake!
Common loons require clear, unpolluted lakes. Generally they prefer large lakes 25 acres plus for safe landing and takeoff. Shallow and deeper water are important. Shallow water is used for foraging, nurseries and shelter. The grown ups want the deeper water for diving and socializing. Not only that, but they need a long runway in the water for lift off, without any interference from trees, at least 100 to 150 feet. You might have seen them taking off, the way their legs are placed so far on the back of their body, their little legs go a mile a minute to lift the front part of them off the water before they can take flight.
When Mang called Wild Kritters, a person named Al came right out to see what he had and take care of it. Even though it was an adult, Tony said he treated it like a newborn child. Al dried it; pet it, talked to it, examined it, then put it in a neat little cage and drove it off to parts unknown, only to him. Wild Kritters doesn't want anyone to really know where they release these fellas so they don't get harassed by onlookers.
Way back when, probably in the early 1900s there was an abundance of common loons, like a whole lot of other waterfowl; over time things change. Mercury contamination, acid lakes and acid rains, oil spills and a whole bunch of other things have interfered with Mother Nature's critters through the years, even human interference has disturbed loons because they like quiet serene places for living space. In May of 2004, the NYSDEC banned lead sinkers to be sold or used by fishermen weighing 1/2 ounce or less. The birds gets confused when searching the bottom of lake for grit or food, a necessary part of their diet, and mistakenly think that sinker is food. Accidental ingestion of lead fishing tackle by loons leads to lead toxicity and death, or it could be other water birds like ducks, geese, swans or gulls. The toxic effects of one single piece of lead can cause lead poisoning in these birds and others. Fishermen adapted almost overnight and now use a non-toxic weight for fishing.
The day after I got a call from Mang, I received an email from John Nowicki who said he spotted a loon while driving on Lower Mountain Road along Bond Lake. He said it was right near shore, and then he spotted several others a little further out in the lake. He advised if anyone is going by there to bring a camera and maybe a pair of binoculars. John was pleased to see them and said, "I'm hoping it is a good sign for the environment, it's something you don't see everyday." So if you want to see what a loon looks like, there is a good close by viewing area for the moment.
The loon's diet consists almost entirely of fish and has a long sharp pointed bill and they are attracted to fish's eyes. So if you ever get near one to hold, the bills are precision daggers, and they'll have your eye before you know it. To be better off, call for a Wild Kritter rescue, or on the web: www.WildKrittersNiagara.
More Shagbark
Tracy Lloyd, who lives on Lake Street in Youngstown, emailed and said she has a shagbark hickory growing in her front yard. She said it was 75-ish feet tall. I drove by her house and, yes, it is every bit of 75 feet and then some. Her home is on property once owned by Fort Niagara, and that makes me wonder about these old shagbarks in Youngstown, and around Fort Niagara. Were they planted for a reason? Shagbarks according to sources were mainly used for tools.
From David Brooks: "I can't believe that you didn't cite the beautiful shagbark hickory in the median of the Niagara Scenic Parkway! Going north, between Pletcher Road and the Youngstown Exit is a magnificent example of this tree, standing pretty much alone. I notice it every time I use the parkway: tall, straight and fairly old. The bark is clearly visible even from a speeding vehicle.
Shagbarks can live up to 300 years. I just bought 10 from Cooperative Extension to plant on my property." He added, "also bought 10 2-year-old Norway Spruce."

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