Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Loon on lake.. © Mary Roen

Lead tackle is a serious concern for fish and other wildlife. The “Get the Lead Out! Wisconsin” campaign aims to teach anglers about the impact of lead fishing tackle on loons and other wildlife.
© Mary Roen

February 2014

To the rescue

Lost fishing tackle can be dangerous to loons.

Story and photos by Mary Roen

While picnicking at Perch Lake north of Hudson on the Friday before Labor Day last fall, Cathy Olyphant, Wendy Hill and I spotted a loon acting strangely, throwing his head back and forth. With binoculars, we could see that there was something attached to his cheek by the bill. We discovered to our horror that he had fishing line wrapped around his beak with what appeared to be a fishing lure embedded in his cheek.

We sprang to action, calling every agency we could think of to save this beautiful bird from certain death. Although it was the start of the holiday weekend, we managed to assemble an enthusiastic group of volunteers to help. Harvey Halvorsen of the Department of Natural Resources in Baldwin and Tamara Larson of Tammi’s Wildlife Rescue and Wellness Center in Frederic led the rescue operation.

A plan was made to meet at dusk the next day, since the bird was still very active. We met at the lake Saturday evening with a dozen kayaks and a canoe with Larson, Halvorsen and his wife, Ruth Hilfiker.

There were several spectators on shore around the lake. With the light fading, the kayaks with enthusiastic volunteers pushed off from shore. We moved quickly and silently out onto the lake and formed a semi–circle around the loon in an effort to gently guide it closer to shallow waters.

We almost got close enough to the loon for Larson to net it, but he dove down and under the kayaks. We regrouped in anticipation of him surfacing, and after several attempts, the loon popped up right next to Larson. We heard Larson say, “I got him!”

She skillfully netted the loon and transferred him to an animal carrier. To prevent further stress to the loon, we restrained our shouts of joy, allowing the residents around the lake to clap and cheer for us.

We all headed back to shore where, with the light of multiple lanterns and flashlights, Halvorsen and Larson removed the offending tangle of monofilament line. There were four lead weights attached, which could have been fatal to the loon if he had swallowed them. Careful cutting was required to remove a hook that was embedded in his cheek. A thorough examination was made to determine the extent of his injuries.

Miraculously his only wound was the puncture at the corner of his mouth, which Larson cleaned and treated with an antibiotic ointment. It was determined that the loon was healthy enough to be released. We all gathered on shore as Larson carefully waded out and placed the loon in the dark water.

The loon took a couple of paddle strokes, stretched out his wings and gave a beautiful “tremolo” call, which to us meant, “Thanks for helping me, but now leave me alone!”

It was all the thanks we needed. Our rescue mission was a success. None of us will ever forget it. The loon has been seen on the lake since this rescue and is doing well.

Mary Roen writes from River Falls. She, and her friends Cathy and Wendy, want to thank everyone who assisted in the loon rescue including DNR staff, wildlife rehabber Tamara Larson, Justin and Maggie of the Homestead Parklands staff, Friends of St. Croix Wetlands Management District, The Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, residents and friends of Perch Lake, and all those who helped in kayaks and canoes and who cheered from shore.