Loons are fish-eating birds at the top of the aquatic food chain. This makes a loon a signature or indicator species of the health of the aquatic ecosystem.
Further, the environmental quality of a region can be monitored by the presence of its loons. The Montana Loon Society Board of Directors understands this and is concerned about common loons wherever and whenever they occur in Montana.
MONTANA LOON SOCIETY BOARD OF DIRECTORS
- Region 1: Blackfoot and Clearwater River Drainages
- Region 2: Kalispell East to Swan River Drainage (Beaver Creek Divide)
- Region 3: Stryker north to the Canadian Border.
- Region 4: Kalispell West through the Thompson Chain of Lakes.
- Region 5: Glacier National Park including North, Middle and South Forks of the Flathead River.
- Region 6: Yaak, Kootenai and Bull River Drainages
*The Montana Loon Society regions do not match the management regions developed by the Common Loon Working Group. The CLWG regions are based on U.S. Forest Service, MT FWP or other agency areas of wildlife management, which for the most part have set boundaries and do not overlap. The Montana Loon Society Board of Directors is based on the six general regions of Northwest Montana where loons nest and can span agency management boundaries.
Lynn Kelly has been the president of the Montana Loon Society since 1993 when the Montana Loon Study became the Montana Loon Society. Born in Syracuse, New York (good loon country), Lynn experienced Seattle, Washington, and Cincinnati, Ohio before her family settled in Los Angeles, California. Her father was an electrical engineer who had landed his dream job there and was involved (literally) in putting men on the moon.
From an early age, Lynn was fascinated by pretty much anything that moved and would normally be found outside catching critters in local streams and woods. She determined early-on that she wanted to be a veterinarian like her granddad in Ronan, Montana so biology was her major from high school through college. However at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she had to make the choice between microbiology and medical school or ornithology and field ecology (catching everything in streams again). Field ecology won out and Lynn earned a B.S. in Biology/Field Ecology.
Lynn had taken an ornithology class, but to become a “real birder” you had to have a bird book, binoculars and a birding buddy and that’s what Marcy Bishop was for Lynn…besides being a boss, friend, mentor and second mother. Lynn was privileged to accompany Marcy on birding trips and it was a trip to Pablo National Wildlife Refuge on a spring day when Lynn saw a huge black and white waterbird in the reservoir right next to the dike that you didn’t need binoculars to see. It was Lynn’s first sighting of a common loon. Years later in 1985, Lynn slipped into the forest around a tiny lake to see if any loons were present. It was the end of a hot summer’s day and the sunset flamed through and above the trees. The thick cattails around the lake revealed large circular flattened areas…. were they the day beds of grizzly? Unable to really see the whole lake, Lynn vocalized a wail and instantly got a response from the resident pair of loons who swiftly swam towards the possible intruder. It was mesmerizing! Stunned and breathless, Lynn was instantly hooked on loons. A few weeks later, Lynn accompanied Don Skaar and Kristi DuBois to a lake where a significant disturbance of a loon family had occurred. In the process of discussing what her master’s thesis should be, both Don and Kristi declared that loons should be the thesis topic.
In 1986, Lynn was granted a sabbatical leave from the Polson School District in order to pursue her goal of a master’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Management at Montana State University. Her thesis determined that human recreational activities (especially fishing) were negatively impacting the ability of common loons to successfully reproduce in Montana. The research also determined that floating signs significantly increased the number of 2-chick broods. Further, the success of the floating signs was facilitated by having someone at boat ramps explaining to the public why the signs were there. These components eventually became the “management strategy” for managing loons in Montana.
Lynn retired from teaching at Polson Middle School after 35 years, but taught an additional 3 years at a local Christian School. These days she teaches general biology at the Salish Kootenai College during the fall quarter and works at Delaney’s Landscape Center in Polson, specializing in perennials from April to September. She can’t wait each spring to get out in the field to her beloved loons.
In the mid-1980’s, Christie met Lynn Kelly at the S. shore beach of Dickey Lake where Lynn was monitoring the lake for the Common Loon. This immediately captured Christie’s attention as she was/is an avid bird watcher. In 1988, Lynn put Don Skaar in touch with Christie to do volunteer work, collecting loon observation data on 15 lakes in the Tobacco Valley/Stryker area of NW Montana and public information data primarily at the boat launches of Dickey and Murphy Lakes, and placing sign buoys around nesting areas.
Christie has served as Vice President of the Montana Loon Society from 2003 to present. She continues to work with the Common Loon Working Group in her role as MLS Vice President and she continues to observe area loons and participate in the May and July Loon Counts.
Donna Love, author of Loons, Diving Birds of the North, grew up roaming outdoors in western Oregon along the banks of the Yamhill River on the eastern side of the Pacific Coastal Range. Her father loved to salmon fish, so her family had a very rustic (no electricity or running water) fishing cabin on the Nestucca River in Pacific City. Her family spent so much time in their boat that Donna’s mother said the boat was Donna’s cradle. This gave Donna a deep love for water and all water creatures, but she didn’t know anything about loons.
The first Donna recalls hearing about loons was reading a story to her three young children about Bambi that had a loon family in it. That was Donna’s first introduction to loons until 1996 when she moved to the lakeshore of Seeley Lake with her husband and children for her husband’s work as the Seeley Lake District Ranger with the Forest Service. The first summer, when Donna heard the loons calling on the lake at night, she’d close the window, saying, “What’s that racket!” She thought she was hearing coyotes across the lake. Her husband told her “It’s just the loons.”
In the fall of 1997, Donna attended the MLS Board Meeting, which was held that year at John and Martha Madsen’s cabin on Placid Lake. Donna has always said, “I made the mistake of taking a pen and notebook to that meeting.” Lynn asked her to take the minutes, and that’s how Donna became the secretary of the Montana Loon Society. She has held that position every year since, except 2011, when her daughter was ill and had a newborn baby. (All turned out well.)
When her children all reached school age, Donna began substitute teaching at the grade school. In 1999, Donna wrote a children’s story about loons. It helped that she had a background in art education. She sent the story to Mountain Press Publishing Company in Missoula on the advice of her husband, Tim, who knew of a children’s book they had just published about owls. Donna loved writing and had written many stories, but she had never sent one to a publisher before. Within a week, Mountain Press called her and said they didn’t want a book for young children, but could she write a book for school age children like the book they had just published on owls. Donna’s knees began to shake, and her voice trembled, but she answered as confidently as she could, “Yes!”
In 2003, Donna’s first book, Loons, Diving Birds of the North, was published (illustrated by Joyce Mihran Turley). Following that, in 2006, Donna wrote, Awesome Ospreys, Fishing Birds of the World, which was also published by Mountain Press and illustrated by Joyce Turley. Since, Donna has written nine more books, which are mostly nature books for children. In 2009, Henry the Impatient Heron, received a “Mom’s Choice Award.” In 2012, The Glaciers are Melting! was Montana’s Book of the Year. Donna credits her successful book writing career to the loons on Seeley Lake.
Donna now lives in Missoula with her newly retired from the Forest Service husband. They now have two granddaughters and a grandson.
Don’s data and the data of his late father, P.D. Skaar, author of Bird Distribution in Montana, provide us with the first accurate Montana loon information ever recorded, spanning the late 1970’s to 1989. (Don had searched out previous historical data on Montana loons and found little he could use.)
Around 1985, Don was traveling to various Audubon chapters giving his loon programs asking for money and volunteers. That’s when Lynn Kelly got involved. (As Don said later, “I created a monster.”) Working with biologists from the Forest Service (Bob Summerfield, Kootenai; Tom Wittinger, Flathead; Mike Hillis, Lolo), and from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (Dale Becker, biologist,) Glacier National Park (Steve Gniadek), Department of State Lands (Dean Graham), Montana Natural Heritage Program (David Genter), and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (Dennis Flath and Dan Casey), Don showed that the common loon needed to be listed as a “sensitive species.” In 1986, the Forest Service listed the common loon a sensitive species.
Don started our annual “Loon Day” in about 1986, and compiled the data for several years until we began to send the data to the Montana Natural Heritage Program in Helena at the state capitol. In 1987, Don began the process of writing the Management Plan and the Montana Loon Study contracted with the Forest Service to do this. Don write the Loon Management Plan, which was part of a Challenge Grant Cost Share Program (a grant he also wrote) in which the Forest Service funding was matched by monies from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the North American Loon Fund. He traveled to a North American Loon Fund meeting to share his information about loons in Montana in the process of securing these funds. The writing of the plan was completed in 1988-89.
In the meantime, Don had been holding annual meetings of the Montana Loon Study, usually held in June in preparation for Loon Day. For this he organized all the volunteers across the state for Loon Day, and as mentioned, he compiled all the Loon Day data. Don wrote the early newsletters reporting the results and loon news around northwest Montana.
In 1992, the Loon Management Plan began to transition into a Loon Conservation Strategy and the Montana Loon Study started becoming the Loon Conservation Strategy Loon Society, then the Montana Loon Study of which Don served as president. The latter transformed into the Montana Loon Society. Don served as the first president of the Montana Loon Society, and he has continued to serve the interest of loons as treasurer and still is.
While he was doing all the loon work, Don was employed as the fisheries biologist – first as a contractor rehabilitating trout streams, and then for MFWP in Libby and now in Helena. Quite literally there would be no Montana Loon Society without Don Skaar. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude and in 2000 he was honored with the Montana Loon Society Founder’s Award.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Region 1: Blackfoot/Clearwater
Region 2: Kalispell East to Swan River Drainage
Region 3: Stryker North to the Canadian Border
2015 was the first year she could watch the loons nesting. A platform nest had been placed just opposite her house on the south end of the lake making viewing easy. It was exciting to watch the pair taking turns on the nest and see the chick just after it hatched and riding on mom’s back. That is when she really fell in love with loons. Sadly, the chick was predated by an eagle a month later. That same year she joined the Montana Loon Society, which was busy with loon activities. The loons were banded, chick included, and she was able to attend as a bystander. She said, “It was an incredible experience and so professional.”
In 2019, Kris, with the help of Christie Ferruzzi and the generosity of Homestead Brewery in Eureka Kris hosted the Montana Loon Society’s first ever “Pint Night.” The evening’s activities were very successful raising over one thousand dollars, much of which stayed in her area to be spent on the needs of loons there.
The thing Kris loves most about loons is their regal character, coloring, shape of their head, and commitment as a pair and to raising their young. Kris said, “My wish for every year is to see another chick hatch, and live to fly off in the fall.”
Region 4: Kalispell West through the Thompson Chain of Lakes
Region 5: Glacier National Park including North, Middle and South Forks of Flathead River Corridors.
Region 6: Yaak, Kootenai and Bull River Drainages
The Montana Loon Society also works closely with the Common Loon Working Group.
Click here to see list and email addresses of Common Loon Working Group Coordinators and a map of the areas they serve.
AWARDS & RECOGNITIONS
Montana Loon Society Awards
Partner of the Year
Partner of the Year is given to government agency or private industry employees who, in the course of their employment, in spite of having many duties which may or may not include monitoring loons, nonetheless makes the time and takes the effort to get the best loon information and achieve the best loon management possible with available resources. We could not do our work without their help and support.
Volunteer of the Year
Volunteer of the Year goes to people who volunteer many hours of their personal time and effort to ensure that loons will continue to be a part of our Montana landscape. They often also provide vehicles, computers, phones, boats and anything else needed. We couldn’t continue our work without them.
Conservation Partner of the Year
Conservation Partner of the Year, added in 2016, is for a person or group that helps conserve areas of land, water, or sky important to Montana’s loons.
Pioneer of the Year
Pioneer of the Year, instigated in 2006, is given to people whose completed research adds significantly to science, and our understanding of common loons.
The Founders Award is given to people that were with the Society from the beginning of the Society, which so far includes Don Skaar.
Recent Award Recipients
2022 MLS Partner of the Year: Laura Strong
MLS Partner of the Year was awarded to Laura Strong, retiring Common Loon Working Group Co-chair. Laura became the co-chair in 2016. During her six-plus years as co-chair, she was a wildlife biologist on the Tally Lake Ranger District, Flathead NF. When she first started working with loons, she was a wildlife tech, so she knows all aspects of loon management from on-the- ground loon ranger duties to advanced management needs.
“Laura is passionate about the wildlife of northwest Montana and has a curiosity to find creative solutions to any management challenge that may arise. At meetings she has the ability to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments, but also keep everyone on task. She was especially adept at keeping the CLWG organized to follow through on upcoming projects and issues,” said Jami Belt, Glacier NP biologist.
“Laura is a passionate caring human. She is always willing to help when help is needed and cares deeply for the people around her. She knows, and remembers EVERYONE, and makes you feel great when you see her,” said Jessica Swanson, FS Biologist, and new Co-chair, who has worked with Laura over the years.
Laura left the position as CLWG Co-Chair in March of 2022. She is now a consultation biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. MLS President Lynn Kelly said, “We will miss Laura at CLWG and MLS meetings, and especially in the field. She was an awesome partner to the society and Montana’s loons.”
2022 MLS Partner of the Year: Bob LeBlanc
MLS Volunteer of the Year goes to Bob LeBlanc, photographer, loon enthusiast, and property steward in the Eureka area. Bob has lived in Montana’s northwest corner all his life. Since 1983 he has been the property manager and golf course superintendent for Crystal Lakes Resort. With permission and help from area biologists, Tim Thier, Ethan Lula, and Tim Manley, Bob and his crew placed three artificial loon nest platforms on three lakes that he manages. Loons have used the nests to hatch and raise chicks. In 2021, the loon pair on Crystal Lake chased a Canada goose from a nest platform and incubated the eggs. Three goslings hatched. Two survived until fall migration. While Kootenai NF Wildlife Technician and Kelsey Preslar, kept a watchful eye, Bob’s skill as a photographer helped him document this remarkable event. (To learn more about the Crystal Lake loons, click here and scroll down to 2022) Further, Bob is donating the use of his photographs to develop a picture book about this remarkable story and is donating his part of the proceeds to MLS. MLS President Lynn Kelly said, “We appreciate our many loon volunteers, but some go above and beyond. Bob is one of those.”
Photo Credit: Bob LeBlanc
2021 Partner of the Year: Smith Wells, MT FWP GIS Natural Resource Analyst
This year’s Partner of the Year was awarded to Smith Wells, MT FWP GIS Natural Resource Analyst in Helena for her work on integrating MT loon data with Glacier National Park data. Smith Wells was the tech force who moved the Common Loon Working Group to one statewide database! She has also been instrumental as we transitioned to Survey 123 as our tool for May and July surveys and other observations.
Smith took on merging the Glacier National Park database in with the rest of the agencies and tribes which was no easy feat. She worked hand in hand with agency biologists to understand the needs of the survey, how to make sure everyone had access to it, and help us learn how to get the data back when we needed it to make land management decisions. Laura Strong, past CLWG Co-chair said, “Smith is such a pleasure to work with and shows her expertise at every turn. We’re so thankful to FWP for letting her work with us on this project–we couldn’t have done it without her.” Jami Belt, present CLWG Co-chair said, “Thank you, Smith, for your dedication and patience! You are a deserving recipient of this Partner of the Year AWARD! We appreciate you. On behalf of the entire Common Loon Working Group, Thank you.”
2021 Volunteer of the Year: Daniel and Virginia Poleschook, Photographers and Naturalists
This year’s MLS Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Daniel and Virginia Poleschook for their generous donation of their spectacular loon photos for use on our new website.
Not many miles away in Washington State, Daniel and Ginger have helped conduct conservation efforts on a small population of common loons in the northeast corner of the state near Loon Lake. In addition, they have also done work on the western side of the state on the Pacific coast and near Puget Sound.
The 78 common loon images in 15 categories that they shared with us are a small representation of the over one-million of the species that they have acquired since they started their work in 1996. With over 90 hard drives filled with their loon and other waterbird images, (and a large spreadsheet to provide information on each image!) their gift to the Montana Loon Society made it possible for our new loon web site to be one of the best in the state, and maybe even the nation.
MLS President Lynn Kelly said, “We appreciate their love of loons, their dedication to promoting information about common loons, and their years of work for loon conservation. We are honored by their gift to us and to Montana’s loons.”
2021 Conservation of the Year: Jack and Rachel Potter, Tepee Lake, North Fork Valley Cabin Owners.
This year’s Conservation Award goes to Jack and Rachel Potter, who, along with other cabin owners on Tepee Lake in the North Fork of the Flathead River, successfully petitioned MTFWP to limit lake watercraft to manually operated watercraft only.
Tepee Lake is a 43 acre, 20 feet deep lake at its deepest, with no perennial surface inlet or outlet. It sits in the Tepee Lake Complex, which is rated by the MT Dept. of Environmental Quality as a Wetland of Outstanding Significance due to its great diversity of wetland plant communities.
Historic data of common loons on the lake is unknown, but common loons and nesting success have been documented since the 1950’s. It is known that it has produced 23 loon chicks in the past thirty years. People on the lakeshore and wildlife (even bears) sometimes disturbed the nest, so twelve years ago, cabin owners requested and were granted by MTFWP an artificial nesting platform be installed, which helped nesting success.
Their petition stated that although there is currently no motorized use on the lake, nor any history of it, with the increase of people to Glacier National Park and new settlement in the North Fork Valley, it will only be a matter of time before a new neighbor or visitor brings a motorboat or jet-ski to the lake. The petitioners hope the new manually powered watercraft status will preserve the peace, quiet, and rustic character of the area before a conflict develops.
Montana Loon Society President Lynn Kelly stated, “We applaud the efforts of Jack and Rachel for their foresight in preserving Tepee Lake, limiting it to manually operated watercraft. The loons on the lake appreciate it, too.”
Click here to view a complete list and description of Montana Loon Society Award Recipients from 1994-2021
Since 2012, the Montana Loon Society has produced a yearly newsletter to keep the membership informed about the needs of loons and the activities of the Society. Newsletters include a front page article of interest, the president’s report, area loon reports, awards, board and membership meeting report, updates from the Common Loon Working Group, the Loon Band Contest, and more.