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      Biologists learn about loons

      Common Coast Research codirector and biologist, Joe Kaplan, along with a team of volunteers, have been going from lake to lake in Dickinson County to capture local loons. The researcher marks and color bands the beautiful birds to follow them over time and learn more about the remarkable species.

      Kaplan says this project has helped him understand their survival rates, how long they live, where they nest, which mates they have.

      The team captured a young loon which happened to benefit from Kaplan's research after he removed a fishing hook caught in its foot.

      "An important part of this work is really to increase our understanding of loons so that we can come up with conservation strategies that really work and work well," says Kaplan.

      One question finally answered through Common Coast's method of research was that loons don't mate for life.

      "Once they've acclaimed their territory, then they will mate," says volunteer Art Belding. "They don't really mate each other, they mate the lake."

      Blood and feather samples are collected from the birds to test the level of contaminants, such as mercury, in the water. If the levels get too high, methods can be deciphered to contain and monitor the contaminant level.

      Researchers can monitor that change with loons as a bio-indicator by consistently testing the birds over time.

      "I think that this is a good way to determine what the hazards are in the environment and potential hazards for us," Belding explains.