Volunteers Aid Glacier on Loon Project

By Beacon Staff

“Loons are the epitome of the wild,” says Anne Zavadil, “especially when you hear their call.” Zavadil, a Whitefish resident, is starting her third season as a loon volunteer for the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center.

Zavadil joined the growing number of volunteers trained for field work in the popular citizen science program that tracks loons in Glacier National Park. Along with Mary Nelesen, an Audubon Society friend from Bigfork, Zavadil found herself tromping to lakes to sit with binoculars to observe the birds. “The biggest excitement is spotting a loon and watching their behavior,” she explains, “and it’s extra special to see the chicks.

The loon project aims to send volunteers out to 45 lakes in Glacier multiple times each summer and hit all of the lakes July 19 for Montana Loon Day. Declining numbers of the black and white bird have prompted the state to list it as a Species of Special Concern. Loons, which are sensitive to human disturbance around nests and nursery sites, only see a statewide average of 35 chicks per year.

Glacier harbors about 20 percent of the state’s breeding population. Last summer, volunteers counted 46 adults including 20 pairs and 10 chicks.

“I saw two chicks riding on their mother’s back,” says Zavadil. “Your heart quickens with something like that.” That’s precisely why the number of volunteers doubled in the first two years of the loon program; people love watching wildlife.

Melissa Peterson, coordinator for the loon project, will be training more volunteers this Saturday, June 21, and can schedule others when volunteers are available. The one-day training walks through identification, behaviors, and how to fill out the observation forms. Volunteers need no background in science.

“The loon call makes my hair stand on end, just like a wolf,” says Zavadil.

For more information, call Melissa Peterson at 888-7986 or email at Melissa_peterson@partner.nps.gov.

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