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
2020 MLS Partner of the Year: Glacier National Park Citizen Science Program
The Common Loon (Gavia immer) is considered a Species of Special Concern by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, due to the species’ sensitivity to disturbance during nesting season and its low reproductive and recruitment rates. Glacier National Park (GNP) began monitoring loons in 1988 by joining the July Loon Day effort to count all the loons in Montana during this single day. While this effort revealed that Glacier supported 20- 25% of Montana’s breeding Common Loon population, it left many gaps in our knowledge about loons and how to protect them and their habitat.
In 2006, with generous support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, GNP established the Common Loon Citizen Science project to train volunteers to gather baseline data on population and distribution of common loons, to improve accuracy during an annual Loon Day count, and to increase survey coverage of 45 lakes in Glacier. Citizen Scientists in GNP attend a one day training on loon ecology and how to safely and ethically monitor them, and then volunteer their time to hike long miles and drive often rough roads to each of these lakes frequently throughout the breeding season. Children even sometimes accompany parents. In addition to helping us track loon populations GNP, Citizen Scientists have also helped us identify nesting sites and nursery areas, document hatch dates and nest failures and helped us learn a lot more about loon ecology than we ever expected. And they have educated countless visitors and locals on the sensitivity of loons and importance of preserving this charismatic species. An average of 110 citizen scientists donate considerable time each season to helping us monitor loons, and have conducted over 2700 surveys and contributed 42,655 hours of their time. Jami Belt, GNP Biologist said, “It is a vast understatement to say ‘We could not do it without them!’”
2020 Volunteer of the Year: Lori Micken, Pierce Lake Cabin Owner
The Swan Valley holds many remarkable things, but Pierce Lake resident Lori Micken, Montana author, school teacher, naturalist, biologist and local loon steward, is one of its best kept secrets. In the 15 years the Loon Society has worked in the Swan Valley, Pierce Lake has been the most steadfast and productive loon nesting lake in the valley. For most of this time it has been the Swan’s only productive nesting lake. In truth, Lori has been kind enough to teach us a great deal about loon conservation from her knowledge of the birds and this one lake. Over the years, Lori has fastidiously chronicled and reported nesting dates, hatch dates, platform condition or needed repairs, threats to the birds and chick survival. She has loaned her boat and property for many hours of loon observations, floating sign deployment or banding operations. It is past due that Lori should be recognized for all her work for loon conservation at Pierce Lake. Mark Ruby, Region 2 MLS Board Member and U.S. Forest Service Wildlife Biologist, said, “I am proud to be able to nominate her for volunteer of the year as a small token for what she does for common loons at Pierce Lake and the help she has provided for their management in the Swan Valley.”
2020 Conservation Partner of the Year
Ashley Lake Property Owners Association, Kalispell
The 2020 Montana Loon Society Conservation Award of the Year Award goes to the Ashley Lake Property Owners Association (ALPOA). This association is made up of landowners in the Ashley lake watershed basin and was formed over 25 years ago. In 1996 the neighbors came together to form the Ashley Lake Neighborhood Plan which has this as its vision statement “The vision statement of the Ashley Lake Neighborhood is to provide a safe community and preserve and enhance upon the unique environment in which we have been fortunate to have bestowed upon us. To this end we seek to be strong stewards protecting the water, air quality, maintaining the serenity and improving upon the health of the forest that surround Ashley Lake, and maintain the closeness of the Ashley Lake Community.” All of those living around the lake have a passion for the loons that spend their spring, summers and fall at the lake and many years ago ALPOA created a “Loon Fund” where donations could be made to support the preservation of the loons. A portion of this money has been donated to the Montana Loon Society on an annual basis and is used to support among other things, the Loon Ranger Program, nesting signs and floating nesting platforms. ALPOA recognizes the inevitable continued growth and development of lakeshore and has many folks who are committed to doing everything humanly possible to maintain a strong loon presence on the lake. Every year at their annual meeting Tony Dawson, known locally as “The Loon Guy”, and a member of the MLS board, gives a State of the Loon address which is often followed by many stories from excited lakeshore owners. They love to talk about the loons they recently saw or the haunting calls in the evening or sightings of chicks in the spring. The lake has the distinction of having more nesting pair of loons than any lake west of the Mississippi with 4 pair!
The Lake is a significant breeding area and has been credited with spreading its population to nearby lakes which then leapfrog to more lakes and expand the northwest Montana population. Members of ALPOA deserve great credit for their continued commitment and support in the interest of the common loon.
Congratulations ALPOA and thank you for your continued support!
2019 MLS Partner of the Year
Tim Their, Retired MT FWP Wildlife Biologist, Kalispell