Making a weekend of the Killarney Spring Loon Count

Killarney Provincial Park is home to the sparkling white La Cloche Mountains, verdant green forests and brilliant blue lakes.  Visitors come to hike, paddle and camp in these beautiful surroundings.

Killarney is also a hotspot for “citizen science.” The park invites visitors to help them count things like butterflies, winter birds and that iconic northern bird with its haunting call, the Common Loon.

Killarney’s lakes are home to pairs of Common Loons each season and park staff organize a “Loon Count” in the spring and again in the summer to see how many are nesting in the park and raising young.

The spring count tells park staff how many pairs have arrived during the spring migration, and the summer count tells them how many have successfully nested and how many chicks they have.

swimming loon with chick

Citizen scientists (which could be you!) are given a group of lakes to canoe into, where they count the number of loons they see.  Counting loons helps the staff determine the health of the park’s lakes – loons are indicators of healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Decades ago, acid rain impacted the park’s aquatic ecosystems – water quality declined and food for the loons became scarce, and they left.  Reduction in air pollution improved water quality, the park’s aquatic ecosystems have rebounded and the loons have returned.

Camille Koon, a Learning and Education Leader with Ontario Parks, joined the Loon Count last spring.  Here’s her account of her weekend in Killarney:

Making a weekend of the Killarney Spring Loon Count

Leading up to the Killarney Spring Loon Count, it was easy to convince my good friend Michaela to join me in the event! Let me introduce you to first-time loon-counter, the enthusiastic Michaela Bohunicky!

woman in canoe

We were eager to get out in a canoe for the weekend and take in the Killarney experience – we were making a weekend of it!

After arriving at Killarney Provincial Park on Friday evening, we set up camp and then drove to the nearby Village of Killarney to enjoy some local Fish and Chips.

We got an unexpected glimpse of a fisher along the road en-route, and later enjoyed the playful company of a pair of goofy otters doddling about in the Killarney harbour. We were giddy with excitement as the locals chuckled at our childlike energy… clearly these otters were local residents.

Now, I don’t want to romanticize this experience too much… but following our dinner with otters, we travelled back to our campsite to a campfire under the full moon. Yes, there were bugs, but under my bug jacket by the fire, I was safe and comfortable, enjoying the brilliance of the bright moon!

As the moon conquered the sky, we retired to our tents and the rather loud Barred Owls provided the soundtrack to my dreams. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all…?” they called. Or so it sounded.

Come morning, we were ready for our first Loon Count!

We met the group of volunteers and staff, and were taught our tasks for the day: paddle, paddle, paddle…find loons, mark loons on a map, describe loon behaviour, paddle, paddle, paddle, BBQ.

woman looking through binoculars

Of course, this is the brief version of our day! Details on our process can be found here.

Michaela and I were assigned Johnnie and Ruth-Roy Lakes. As we paddled and weaved through all their nooks and crannies, we left feeling very familiar and close with our lakes.

woman in canoe

Sure, you hope for a good paddle and good weather, but you leave with a sense of intimacy with that part of the park, not to mention an improved knack for spotting wildlife” – Michaela Bohunicky

Not only did we build a personal connection with the lakes and park, we certainly experienced camaraderie in our journey.

woman in canoe looking at map

We paddled and searched for loons from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., meeting other canoeists, adventurers, deer friends, human families, and anglers along the way. And, of course, we met a handful of loons, noticing our presence, as we marked down their whereabouts and behaviour.

At the end of our day of paddling, we sat, stretched and reflected on how we must be getting old. I felt accomplished having travelled a fair distance, counted seven loons, and contributed to a meaningful and important monitoring project.

loon in lake

Feeling that good kind of exhaustion from the day’s adventure, the lovely Killarney staff fed us a BBQ feast and pampered us thoroughly. Soon enough, I was back on my Thermarest mattress for one more camp sleep surrounded by the soothing sounds of nature.

The 2019 Killarney Loon Count

The loons are back in Killarney and we would love to have you join us for a day out paddling at:

  • our 23rd Annual Spring Loon Count — Saturday, June 8, 2019
  • our 23rd Annual Summer Loon Count — Saturday, August 10, 2019

Learn more and sign up here!