Loon Nesting Platforms

(By Richard Smith)

When preparing their nest, Loons are extremely casual, exhibiting the lack of fussiness often found in water birds. A bit of flat ground on the shoreline, some debris caught in the branches of a fallen tree, almost anywhere will do. So, when mother nature decides to create a suitable nesting site, she takes it in her stride and simply blows down a tree. But, when humans decide to get involved, things get a little more complicated.

When the board of the Friends of Bridge Lake recently decided to manufacture a small number of loon nesting platforms in the hopes of combating the decline of these beautiful birds on our lake, extensive research revealed several different construction designs and we settled on one that seemed to offer durability and ease of manufacture in a lightweight package.

The Crew

Richard, Pam, Doug, Chris and Karl
(behind the lens) take stock

It costs about $200.00 to build a single platform so local vendors were approached for assistance. The incredibly generous folks at Tim-BR Mart in 100 Mile House provided materials for the building of four platforms at no cost to the society (I am sure that everyone who is concerned about the Loons population on our lakes will join me in thanking Tim-BR Mart for their unprecedented generosity).

The materials for a fifth platform were purchased locally from Interlakes Building Supplies, and owner Steve Brown agreed to give us a discount of $100.00, which was greatly appreciated.

Having taken delivery of the materials, a date was set and the construction crew met at Karl's house to start the process. The plans were produced and the building began.

The platforms are basically 3 1/2 foot squares of four inch poly pipe with a thick sheet of foam insulation in the middle. This is wrapped in landscape cloth and chicken wire and then the whole contraption is wrapped in green snow fencing to provide a framework for plants to root themselves. (The building plans can be found at the Northland College web site.)

Loon nesting platform

The finished Loon nesting
platform before planting

Over the next few days, all five platforms were finally built. On a chilly Sunday morning, the first two were taken to the launching pad at Bridge Lake, planted with reeds and swamp grasses, towed out to their final destinations and secured in place with two concrete anchor blocks.

The next one was placed on Henley Lake - and what an adventure it was. Residents Doug and Pam Canty loaded their canoe with the two heavy anchor blocks, carefully stepped in without tipping over and dragged the platform 200m across the lake, all the way followed by a pair of Loons watching the delivery of their potential new home.

After being away for a week I yesterday joined Karl and Doug to plant and install the remaining platforms on Bridge Lake ... during a snow storm. We met at the East Greenall Road public access, added soil to the platform and planted a motley collection of swamp grasses. Anchor ropes were attached, the platforms were secured to the stern of my little fishing boat, and cold, wet, covered in Chironomids, and with very little Loon love in my heart, we set out to place the platforms.

Finished platform

Loon nesting platform in place

Previous scouting trips had revealed possible locations (sheltered from prevailing winds and predators, unlikely to attract human interference, and offering multiple escape routes) and they turned out to be ideal. We placed them both without incident, in each instance watched by the very Loons we were hoping to attract, and headed home. A job well done.

The Loon is our national bird and is protected by law. Unfortunately, its numbers are steadily declining and we need to do whatever we can to prevent their disappearance.

The success of efforts to preserve the Bald Eagle is a testament to our ability, not only to bring a species to its knees but, more importantly, our ability to bring it back from the edge.

The Loon is not yet classed as an endangered species in British Columbia, but it still needs our help. It is my sincere hope that Loons will nest in some or all of the platforms and that they will prove more secure than those sites so casually and easily provided by Mother Nature.

One final note: when you come across one of our platforms (or ANY nesting site for that matter), please stay well clear of it and don't disturb the birds in their breeding efforts. Refrain from "sneaking a peek"! Some weeks later seeing the downy little chicks paddle in the wake of their mother (and father) will be your reward.

Thank you!