On Saturday, July 16, Maine Audubon will conduct its 28th annual Loon Count, bringing together hundreds of Mainers to survey lakes and ponds across the state and provide valuable scientific data for lake conservation efforts.

This year’s count takes place between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Counters are given areas to count from shore or by boat, and regional coordinators will compile the results and send them to Maine Audubon for analysis.

“Loons need lakes with clean, clear water and lots of fish, so they are good indicators of lake health. A lake that’s good for loons is good for all kinds of other wildlife,” said Susan Gallo, director of the Maine Loon Project, in a news release. “The annual count has helped build support for laws that keep our waters clean by reducing mercury and the use of lead sinkers, and it’s also been a great way to get people outside, learning about where loons are, where they nest, and how easy it is to share a lake with a loon family.”

The 2010 Loon Count enlisted 960 volunteers to survey Maine’s lakes and ponds. Based on their reports, Maine Audubon estimates that 3,220 adult loons are living in Maine south of the 45th parallel (roughly from Calais to Rangeley) – the highest number in the 27-year history of the count.

Gallo credits part of the loons’ recent success to the efforts of lake associations, landowners, and Maine lawmakers, who have all created conditions for cleaner water and healthier fish populations in Maine lakes and ponds. But she also says that lake visitors and boaters play an important role in letting loons thrive.

“Loon nests are very sensitive to changes in water levels,” said Gallo. “A heavy rainstorm, or even wake from a boat, can flood their nests, and eggs literally float away. We’re coming into the busiest time of year on lakes, so it’s important for people to give loons room and keep boat wakes to a minimum when close to shore.”

A more complete list of things Mainers can do to help loons is available on maineaudubon.org.

This year also marks the second year of Maine Audubon’s Loon Productivity Study, which is making a more detailed, summer-long analysis of how many loons breed, where they nest, and how many chicks survive to the end of the summer. This study is still seeking volunteers who are able to visit nesting sites every other week over the course of the summer.

The loon count is the centerpiece of Maine Audubon’s Maine Loon Project. Through the project, Maine Audubon actively engages people in conservation, educates the public about loon biology and conservation, and collects the scientific data needed to advocate for legislation that benefits loons and the lakes where they live.

For more information about the Maine Loon Project or volunteering, please contact Susan Gallo at 781-2330, ext. 216, or sgallo@maineaudubon.org.