Glacier’s common loon population ‘cautiously stable’

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A common loon rests in a Glacier Park lake last year. (Chris Peterson photo)

The Glacier National Park Citizen Science Program announced some of its preliminary data gathered during the 2019 summer season at the Montana House in Apgar Wednesday, including population reports on loons and mountain goats as well as reports on pikas, lynx and huckleberries.

Established in 2005, the Citizen Science Program invites members of the public to assist in biological research while recreating in the park. The program is coordinated by the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center (CCRLC), based in Glacier, and made possible by the generous support of the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

The park began studying the loon population in 1988 and the effort was taken over by the Citizen Science Program in 2006. Each year, the program attempts to conduct surveys at 50 lakes throughout the park, documenting the number of loons, whether or not they are breeding and any potential harmful disturbances.

This year, the 324 surveys conducted by 129 volunteers and nine National Park Service staff turned up 54 adult loons (17 pairs and 20 singles) as well as nine chicks, which are about average numbers. The most chicks recorded for a season was 14 in 1998 while the fewest was two in 1991.

“Cautiously, we can say the population is looking stable, for now,” researcher Anya Tyson said. “The hatch dates were really late this year, even later than our July Loon Days event, so there could be chicks out there we didn’t see because they had not hatched yet.”

Researcher Jessi Mejia reported that the mountain goat survey project recorded 319 individuals this year, including a single-site high of 23 at Autumn Creek during one survey and 18 at Iceberg Lake during another. Mejia also reported that the pilot scat-collection program, which will study genetic diversity in the park’s goat population, went well, but there were some areas with high visitor traffic where more collection is needed.

Jami Belt reported on the new pilot study looking to gather information on how pikas are dealing with the rising temperatures in the park.

“Pikas became a species of concern at a broad level in 2007 because they are very sensitive to temperature change. People were thinking that with climate change, we would see a lot of impact on pika populations. Scientists quickly realized there was very little baseline data and that nobody was really paying attention to pikas,” Belt said. “Once we started looking at pikas, we discovered that while they are very sensitive to temperature change, they are very good at behavior adaptation. As temperatures go up, they become more nocturnal. Their niche is much wider than we originally thought.”

Belt said that 72 participants conducted 33 surveys and spent 1,772 hours on the project in 2019 working at sites including Piegan Pass, Otakomi, the Highline Trail, Apikuni and Dry Fork Creek.

Belt also reported that the annual Alpine Bird Blitz, which monitors the presence of 13 types of bird within the park, found all 13 target species and a total of 46 bird species in 2019. The annual Fungus Bio Blitz also identified 176 species of fungus in the park this year.

Nate Wold says the huckleberry mapping project conducted 42 surveys at 233 observation points in 2019 and found flowering bushes and green berries as early as June 6 with ripe berries showing up in August.

Finally, the new lynx photo monitoring program, which used 61 trail cameras to document the animals movement and population throughout the park, continues to gather data with the help of 17 volunteers.

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