The past month and a half have been a roller coaster ride, though mostly downwards. Six weeks ago I learned that major funding for my field work in Minnesota had dried up. I cursed my luck. I scratched my head. A thousand “what ifs” passed through my brain.
But looking back was pointless. In time, my mind began to turn to one cheerful and unassailable fact. Loon Project field teams in 2021 and 2022 had given their all to expand our database into a new state where, initially, we knew almost no one. As we began to meet the warm, supportive, loon-loving folks of Minnesota, we gained momentum. The National Loon Center provided tons of support, financial and logistical. New friends shared boats, gave us access to private lakes, towed our capture boat from lake to lake in the middle of the night, or simply drove us around in their own boats during capture to help us find and mark breeding loon pairs. Kevin Kenow and his USGS colleagues spent six long nights in 2022 capturing loons to swell our study population. When the dust settled in early August of last year, we were well over halfway to our goal of establishing a Minnesota Study Area on par with our traditional study area in Wisconsin.
That we have not been diverted from that path is a tribute to our great pool of friends and supporters in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and across the U.S. One day a few weeks ago was a first turning point. An anonymous friend from Wisconsin pledged $7,000 “to support the Minnesota part of the Loon Project”. I was touched that someone in Wisconsin trusted me with this gift, and moreover, dedicated it not to the loons of their own state but to those of an adjacent one. *
Just yesterday, another group of donors from Minnesota helped us reach another turning point. Roger and Phyllis Sherman, Don Salisbury, and Gwen Myers have together contributed $21,000 to the Minnesota Loon Project to establish the Judith W. McIntyre Fund to support our work in the state.
It is a great honor to feel that I am building upon Dr. McIntyre’s seminal work on loons, which took place in Minnesota, Saskatchewan, and Upstate New York. Judy had a gift. She did robust, impactful science that taught us a great deal about loons. At the same time, she was able to convey her passion for loons and loon conservation in a charming, down-to-earth manner that reached the public. I have a dog-eared copy of her classic book, “The Common Loon: Spirit of Northern Lakes” on my shelf to which I often refer. When I think back to my interactions with Judy, though, what I remember most vividly is the warmth and humility with which she welcomed me to the fellowship of loon biologists back in the mid-1990s. She viewed the study of loons as a calling to which all could aspire — even the young whippersnapper that I then was.
The new Judith W. McIntyre Fund is a timely and exciting development. This gift adds to the dozens from other supporters of the Loon Project from Alaska to Colorado to Maine who have stepped up to donate during our time of greatest need. And I cannot forget other folks who have provided the Loon Project team with lodging in Wisconsin (especially Skip and Ruby, Mary, and Linda and Kevin) and Minnesota. Friends and supporters have truly kept the Loon Project afloat in recent years. Gifts earmarked for Minnesota have now brought us right back to where we were before the loss of funding six weeks ago. In other words, thanks to all of you, our goal of producing a robust population model for loons in north-central Minnesota is back on the horizon.
Since I view many events in my life through the prism of my study animal, I cannot help but recall at this moment the plight of the former male loon on Jersey City Flowage, near Tomahawk, Wisconsin. (See Linda Grenzer’s photo of him, above.) Banded as a chick on Swamp Lake (9 miles away) in 1995, “Red/Red, Red/Silver” had easy-to-read bands and a relaxed disposition to match. During each spring for over a decade, I looked forward to seeing his bright color bands under the surface as he permitted us to approach him closely for identification. But he was suddenly at death’s door in June of 2014 after swallowing two lead sinkers attached to a fishing line. If not for the quick and professional work of the Raptor Education Group, he would have been doomed to a slow and painful demise. The REGI folks removed the sinkers, patched up his lacerated tongue, fed him all of the suckers he could swallow, and quickly got him back in the water. Defying the odds, R/R,R/S recovered his lost body mass, migrated southwards in the fall of 2014, and returned to breed the following April, as laidback as ever. He must have felt then as I do now.
I know what you are thinking: another feel-good story of overcoming adversity that features loon/human parallels! Now that we are back in business in Minnesota, perhaps I will plague you less often with such tedious anecdotes. But things have been going pretty well lately. So I can’t make any promises.
* As I noted in an earlier post, research in our traditional Wisconsin Study Area will proceed as before. That is, we will continue to build the Minnesota Study Area without compromising our productive long-term study of loons in Wisconsin.