Loons and Lead – you can help!

Here in northwest Montana we are fortunate to have both a population of common loons and good fishing in many lakes that support loons. Unfortunately, the lead sinkers and jigs often used for fishing pose a significant threat to loons. Loons often swallow fishing tackle and lead is toxic to loons. One lead sinker can kill a loon. Lead sinkers and jigs 1 ½ inches or smaller along the longest axis are known to cause loon mortality. In our neighboring state of Washington, 1/3 of loon mortalities from 1999-2010 were attributed to lead poisoning.

Numerous other studies around the country have documented the same adverse effects. Many other species such as waterfowl and fish also suffer from lead toxicity.

The good news is that non-toxic alternatives for fishing tackle are available at local fishing supply stores and online from many sources. A list of 35 companies that sell lead free tackle is available on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website: go to www.pca.state.mn.us then search for nontoxic tackle. Tell all your fishing friends about the problem with loons and lead tackle and be sure to add that non-toxic alternatives are easily available. The quicker more people become aware of the problem and switch to non-toxic fishing tackle the quicker the lead poisoning rate in loons will decline.

More information about loons and lead poisoning is available from the Montana Loon Society (www.montanaloons.org) and the Montana Common Loon Working Group (chammond@mt.gov).

Of Birds and Bears – Finding a Balance

by Kathy Ross

We have had the enormous pleasure all winter of enjoying birds at our feeders and the birds have benefited, especially in hard winters like the past winter. Now is the time to consider taking the feeders down.  If you live in bear country, out of respect for our furry, hungry neighbors, it is essential.

Besides helping to keep bears out of trouble, taking your feeders down also encourages birds to go for their natural food sources of insects, especially caterpillars. Over 90% of our birds (even hummingbirds!) eat insects, a source of protein and nutrients vital to their health and more importantly essential for raising baby birds. It has been observed that it can take 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to raise a brood of chickadees (average brood 5-10).

Perhaps we would start seeing fewer insects in the landscape, creating less need for toxic insecticides and helping nature to find its own balance. Taking feeders down during the summer can be a win-win for bears, birds and the environment!

Volunteers Needed to help with Owen Sowerwine Management

by Linda Winnie

Flathead Audubon has been managing the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area for over 20 years. A vital part of our management effort is the feedback we get from volunteers who tell us what they observe when they visit Owen Sowerwine.

It’s easy to be part of this Volunteer Monitoring program. Just take an OSNA Monitoring Form with you when you go to Owen Sowerwine, and record what you observe there. Fill out only the parts of the form that apply to the parts of OSNA you visit. The form has check boxes that guide you on what to look for, and space for written comments on what you see and learn. The completed form is sent to Kay Mitchell (mail and email addresses on form). Kay keeps a record of all this information, and lets our On-the-Ground Manager, Rick Mace, know of any management needs reported.

You can get the form (and an OSNA trail map) from OSNA page. This summer, there will also be copies of the form available at the kiosk near the Treasure Lane entrance to OSNA, and at the sign board near the Greenridge entrance. Please call or email me if you have any questions. Thank you Barb Boorman for keeping those brochure holders filled!

For this summer, we will not be scheduling monitoring visits. We’ll be watching to see if we get enough monitoring reports without them.

And THANK YOU to ALL who help with OSNA Monitoring!