Wildlife experts and enthusiasts say there are encouraging early signs that Minnesota's loons and other migratory birds fared well while wintering in the Gulf of Mexico following last summer's massive oil spill, although they say it's too early to be sure.
Bird-watchers, including Jim Sand, have been worried about the impact of the BP oil spill on the loons and other waterfowl that grace Minnesota lakes from spring through fall but spend their winters on the Gulf Coast. Like he does every spring, Sand put nests out for loons on Big Fish Lake north of Cold Spring in central Minnesota. But he held his breath this year to see if loons would occupy them.
Now that loons, white pelicans and some duck species are returning from the Gulf to Minnesota, Pam Perry, a wildlife specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said early reports give her reason for optimism. She told the St. Cloud Times for a story published Tuesday that while it's all anecdotal, she's hearing reports from people that loons on their lakes are coming back.
Baker said the state would know much more about the loon population after July, when the DNR, aided by volunteers, conducts its annual survey of Minnesota's state bird.
The Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program tracks loons at 600 lakes throughout the state chosen for a range of characteristics believed to indicate environmental health: proximity of roads and residents, ratio of public to private land, susceptibility to acid rain and human population growth.
Baker said the loon population, as measured by the survey, has remained fairly stable since 1994, when data were first collected. If the survey shows a sharp drop this year, Baker said, that could be a warning of trouble.
DNR officials are asking people who spot dead loons to contact the agency, which may examine the birds to determine how they died.
As part of her job, Perry corresponds with a network of volunteer bird watchers throughout the state, including Sand. He and fellow members of the Big Fish Lake Association put out nests and protective buoys for the loons that call their lake home during the warm-weather months.
Association members breathed a big sigh of relief last month, Sand said. That was when five adult loons - the same number that nested on the lake last year - returned.
"We didn't know if we'd get them back or not," Sand said.
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)