Last May, Lake Placid resident Larry Master was driving past Mirror Lake when he noticed something out of the ordinary.
There were two loons in the beach area at Mirror Lake, a place they usually avoid because of the high amount of human traffic.
When Master noticed one of the loons in the same area the next day, he decided to take a closer look. When he did, he noticed the bird was in bad shape. It had fishing line wrapped around its beak and could not open or close it.
This loon became entangled in fishing line on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid last May. It was subsequently saved by Dr. Nina Schoch of Ray Brook with the help of state Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife staff.
Photo by Larry Master
Master called Dr. Nina Schoch, Coordinator of Biodiversity Research Institute's Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation in Ray Brook and a wildlife veterinarian and licensed rehabilitator, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Later that day, Schoch and two members of the DEC captured the bird. They then successful cut off the fishing line and released it back into the wild.
The loon rescue was one of about 30 that Schoch said she received last year in the Adirondacks. Of those, 15 were related to fishing tackle.
Of those rescues, 13 of those birds died. Many were from natural elements. Five of them were from fishing tackle.
Schoch said that the 30 calls she received last year was much higher than normal. Usually, she receives about five or six calls about loons being in distress each year.
She said she's receiving more calls because the loon population is increasing and that she's also working with North Country Wild Care, a network of wildlife rehabilitators that is based in the Glens Falls area but works with volunteers from the Albany area.
The problems that can occur with fishing tackle are twofold, Schoch said. The birds can either become entangled in fishing line or they can get poisoned by ingesting lead sinkers or lures that are attached to the line. One of those birds that died from lead poisoning last year came from Lake Placid.
But loons aren't the only birds that get caught in fishing line. Schoch has received calls for blue herons, gulls, ducks and geese over the years.
"I've had woodpeckers caught in line. I've had crows. I've had ravens," Schoch said. "The thing is about fishing line is that by the time you catch the bird, it's because they're debilitated. The line is worn into their body and (has) cut them up quite a bit. It's usually they have an infection. It's really hard to find. It's so clear, and if a fine line it can be really hard to remove if it's gotten tight."
As for the lead toxicity problem, the birds appear to be eating injured fish that have gotten away from anglers.
"We think the birds are ingesting the lead when they are catching a fish that has line and tackle attached," Schoch said. "Then the lead problem is because lead is a toxic substance and and in the acidic environment of the stomach, it breaks down and gets absorbed into the body. Just a little bit can cause toxicity."
Because of the high number of fishing tackle-related incidents, Schoch is asking people to be careful with their fishing line. If it breaks, try to get as much of it back as possible. There are also biodegradable fishing lines available on the market that could be an option.
As for lead sinkers and lures, it's best to avoid using them entirely, she said. There are many non-lead options available now. In fact, in New York it is illegal to sell lead sinkers. Their use, however, is not banned in New York and they are sometimes brought in from other states.
If you see any injured loon or bird, either call Schoch at 888-749-5666 ext. 145 or call the DEC office in Ray Brook at 897-1200.