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The 31’ tritoon boat used by the National Loon Center was acquired in 2021 via a generous $40,000 grant from the Crosslake Ideal Lions Club. -photo submitted
Banded Common Loon on it’s way to rejoin mate and chicks on Cross Lake
Adult Common Loon starting transition to winter plumage on Cross Lake

National Loon Center StewardShip Program Enjoys Success; Over 400 Tour Cross Lake in 2022

Web posted October 18, 2022
The changing of leaves and cooling temperatures are a sign of more than just the onset of autumn; they alert us the loons on our northern lakes will soon leave for warmer waters down south. The fall migration of loons was a key topic aboard the National Loon Center’s StewardShip during the final weeks of its public excursions on Cross Lake, which ran until September 24, 2022. Starting at the end of August, passengers aboard the boat observed the change in the adult loons’ appearance as they began their transition into their winter plumage.

The free public tours ran from July 21 to September 24, 2022. A private workshop, “Minnesota Loons & Freshwater Ecosystem”, led by the NLC and Northern Waters Land Trust on July 13, 2022 was the first time any members of the public came on board. The last excursion of the season was on September 29, 2022 with 14 high schools students joining from Isle School District as part of their Wildlife & Natural Resources class. Other private groups included attendees of Camp Knutson, lake associations, Wounded Warriors, and Crosslake Community School teachers for water-based training through the DNR’s Project WET. In total, the StewardShip went on the water for 23 public excursions and 14 private tours, for a total of 37 trips on Cross Lake. These trips amounted to 439 people who participated in this hands-on learning experience.

“We were thrilled to see the StewardShip run so successfully in its inaugural season,” said Executive Director Jon Mobeck. “It was immensely popular and the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive with respect to the educational value of the tour.”

For many people, this was their first opportunity to observe the Minnesota state bird in such a fun and\ scientific manner. An on-board naturalist, either one of the three NLC staff members or a volunteer MN Master Naturalist, led the tours and provided insightful information on the loons’ behavior. An important takeaway of the program was the connection between the loon population and the quality of freshwater lakes. The tour typically ended at a designated water clarity testing location where participants had the opportunity to measure the transparency of the water using a secchi disk. This data will be submitted to the Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program through the MPCA to add to a state-wide database of water quality testing. This type of on-the-water learning is unique to the northwoods and is something the National Loon Center was proud to offer free of charge to the public.

Since its launch on July 21 to its last outing, the StewardShip watched the loon chicks on Cross Lake grow over the course of the summer, from the tender moments when the parents would feed the young chicks small fish to the exciting first practice flights of the near fledgling juveniles. Some participants on board witnessed more exhilarating events such as the territorial fight between the new resident male of the “Happy Bay” territory and an intruder loon. All passengers had the opportunity to use the provided binoculars to identify individual loons via the colored bands on their legs. Banding loons is a key component of the National Loon Center’s research on common loons, begun in 2021. Through this study, the NLC has identified 8 loon territories on Cross Lake. Five of these resident loon pairs were regularly seen along the StewardShip’s 2-hour route, with three pairs having two chicks. A sixth loon pair was often seen that had nested on the channel to Daggett Lake and brought its chick onto Cross Lake as it grew older.

The 31’ tritoon boat was acquired in 2021 via a generous $40,000 grant from the Crosslake Ideal Lions Club. It was renamed the StewardShip from the Floating Classroom in early 2022 by the volunteer committee, the Northern Lakes Initiative. Safety equipment, life jackets, and educational materials including water testing materials were purchased via a $4,000 grant from the Land & Waters Preservation Trust. In the spring of 2022, the NLC received an additional $5,000 grant from the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund to help support the launch of the program for its first season.

The National Loon Center aims to restore and protect loon breeding habitats, enhance responsible recreation, and serve as a national leader in advancing loon and freshwater research. The NLC’s  world-class facility is slated to open to the public in 2024 and will be an interactive and family-friendly educational destination. To support the National Loon Center’s mission, please visit www.nationallooncenter.org

-article and photos submitted

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