MUNISING - People might pose the greatest threat to loons, but some local youths are trying to lessen that threat.
The Alger County 4-H Youth Conservation Council used a $1,000 grant to build and place artificial nesting platforms, or ANPs, for loons in the AuTrain Basin and other Alger County lakes.
The grant came from the Dow Chemical Company through the Michigan 4-H Foundation.
From left, brothers Jonathan and Jameson Trombley place an artificial nesting platform in the AuTrain basin. (Photo courtesy of the Alger County 4-H Youth Conservation Council)
The project involved much more than putting up a wooden nest box that another bird, such as a wood duck, would use. Members of the 4-H YCC created platforms with PVC pipes, foam insulation, PVC cement, snow fencing, nylon cords and garden stakes. They also made "chick ramps" to help young loons climb onto the platforms.
Obviously, creating a loon platform is not something everyone has tackled.
"I really had no idea how we were going to build it," said Jenna Hach, a former Munising High School student who's now a freshman at the University of Michigan. Hach also was one of the council members involved in the project.
"I don't do much building of things," Hach said, "so it was new for me."
With the help from adults the platforms were constructed. However, they also needed to have the right appearance so loons would feel comfortable nesting on them. To that end, Hach said they used plants and mud from the water on the platforms, simulating a natural nesting site.
The platforms still had to be placed in the right areas, so a little avian research was in order.
"We looked at what had been successful, based on boat traffic, whether the lake was small or big," Hach said.
In that research, Hach said she discovered loons face many obstacles to their survival. As part of their project, the 4-H members had to write a report. (Members also included Ian Stampfly of Munising; Jonathan and Jameson Trombley, Maranda Charlebois and Mitchell Travis, all of Chatham; and Rebecca Pirman of Skandia.)
In that report, they noted the main threats to loons are the loss of nesting habitat because of shoreline development, hazards involved with co-existing with powered watercraft, ingestion of lead sinkers and fishing line.
Loons also face environmental hazards such as acid rain and water contamination as well as natural predators, which include raccoons and gulls feasting on the eggs.
"I did not know much about them," Hach said. "I did not know there was such a big impact on their habitat."
Hach believes the platforms can help loons and at the same time not be a detriment to the surrounding area.
"I think they'll be used," she said. "I really think they'll help. It's not going to harm anything."
To date, three platforms have been placed in the AuTrain basin and one on Town Lake. Two other assembled platforms are designated for Lost Lake and Little Round Lake.
Hach was involved with the AuTrain Basin part of the project. She acknowledged it was difficult getting to the water, what with carrying things like shovels, cinder blocks and pitchforks.
The effort, though, was worth it.
"I really enjoyed helping out as much as I can with the habitat and the environment," Hach said.
Jonathan Trombley, a senior at Superior Central School in Eben Junction, also said it was challenging getting the platforms in the AuTrain basin because they had to travel two miles down the lake to get to the site - and that was in early spring when the temperatures were in the 40s and it was raining.
Again, the effort apparently was worthwhile.
"The most satisfying part, I think is getting the knowledge out there, of the problem we have with loons," Trombley said.
The platforms were placed in May, too late for this year's nesting season. However, Trombley said he will try to check next season if the loons are using the platforms, although he pointed out it takes a while for the birds to find them. More mud and grasses also might have to be put on top so they can continue to look natural.
Trombley's mother, Barb, was the grant facilitator and 4-H leader who helped the council with the project. She said it was the council's second grant, its first project being an education project about caustic household cleaners.
The council, Trombley noted, wanted a more hands-on activity for its next effort. That led to the loon project.
"They were very much enthused about it," she said.
Trombley also said monitoring will continue.
"They're in the basin where we can visually check," she said. "If we have to add mud to the platforms, we can do them."
Her son appreciated what the project could do for local wildlife.
"It was nice to help so easily," Trombley said, "and find a problem we could fix so close to home."
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.