Killarney Provincial Park is home to the sparkling white La Cloche Mountains, green forests and bright 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, snowbirds and that iconic northern bird with its haunting song, the common loon.
Killarney’s lakes host pairs of common loons each season and park staff organize a ‘Loon Tale’ in spring and again in summer to see how many nest in the park and raise young.
The spring count tells park staff how many pairs have arrived during spring migration, and the summer count tells them how many have successfully nested and how many chicks they have.
Citizen scientists (which could be you!) are assigned a group of lakes to canoe, where they count the number of loons they see. Counting grebes helps staff determine the health of the park’s lakes; Loons are indicators of healthy aquatic ecosystems.
Decades ago, acid rain affected the park’s aquatic ecosystems: water quality decreased and food for the loons became scarce, so they left. Reducing air pollution has improved water quality, the park’s aquatic ecosystems have recovered, and loons have returned.
Camille Koon, Learning and Education Leader for Ontario Parks, joined Loon Count last spring. Here is her account of her weekend in Killarney:
How to do a Killarney Spring Loon Count weekend
Ahead of the Killarney Spring Loon Count, it was easy to convince my good friend Michaela to join me at the event! Let me introduce you to enthusiastic, first-time loon counter Michaela Bohunicky!
We were looking forward to canoeing for the weekend and enjoying the Killarney experience – we were having a weekend!
After arriving at Killarney Provincial Park on Friday night, we set up camp and then headed to the nearby town of Killarney for some local Fish and Chips.
We unexpectedly spotted a fisherman along the path on the way, and then enjoyed the playful company of a pair of silly otters frolicking in Killarney Harbour. We were giddy with excitement as the locals chuckled at our childish energy… clearly these otters were local residents.
Now, I don’t want to romanticize this experience too much…but after our otter dinner, we traveled back to our camp to a campfire under the full moon. Yes, there were bugs, but under my bug jacket by the fire, I was safe and comfortable, basking in the glow of the bright moon!
When the moon conquered the sky, we retired to our tents and the noisy barred owls provided the soundtrack to my dreams. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for all of you…??“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 they taught us our tasks for the day: row, row, row…find loons, mark loons on a map, describe loon behavior, row, row, row, barbecue.
Of course, this is the short version of our day! Details about our process can be found here.
Michaela and I were assigned to Johnnie and Ruth-Roy Lakes. As we paddled and explored all its corners, we left feeling very familiar and close. our lakes.
“Sure, you expect good paddling and good weather, but you leave with a sense of intimacy with that part of the park, not to mention an improved ability to spot wildlife.” – Michaela Bohunický
Not only did we build a personal connection with the lakes and the park, but we certainly experienced camaraderie on our trip.
We paddled and searched for loons from 11am to 3pm, meeting other canoeists, adventurers, deer friends, human families and fishermen along the way. And, of course, we encountered a handful of loons, who noticed our presence as we noted their whereabouts and behavior.
At the end of our day of paddling, we sit, stretch, and reflect on how we must be aging. I felt accomplished having traveled a considerable distance, counted seven loons, and contributed to a meaningful and important monitoring project.
Feeling that good kind of tired from the day’s adventure, the lovely Killarney staff fed us a barbecue feast and thoroughly pampered us. Soon enough, I was back on my Thermarest mattress for more sleep at camp surrounded by the relaxing sounds of nature.
The 2019 Killarney Loon Count
The loons are back in Killarney and we would love for you to join us for a day paddling on:
- 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!