It’s Time to Get the Lead Out

Linda and I were working in the garden when we heard a voice hollering from the woods. I thought I heard, “I’ve got a loon and need help.”

Didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but sure enough, when I stepped into the woods, there was Shearon Murphy with a loon cradled under her arm. And here is that loon’s story.

Jane Naliboff photographed the loon the morning of September 7 on Minnehonk Lake. When she got home and loaded the photos into her computer, something looked very wrong. So she emailed the photos to Keele Kemper, a wildlife biologist with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Keele agreed that something was wrong with the loon and recommended a rescue. Jane contacted Avian Haven, and late that afternoon, Shearon Murphy, a volunteer waterfowl rescuer, showed up with her kayak, paddled out to the loon, now in the outlet of the lake right behind our Mount Vernon home, and simply reached down and picked up the loon. Definitely not something that would ever happen with a healthy loon.

Looking into the right eye of that beautiful creature, I too knew that something was very very wrong. The loon’s head and neck languished on Shearon’s hip as I drove her back to her vehicle, where Jane met us, along with Barbara Skapa who had joined in the rescue mission.           

We loaded the loon into a box, covered it up with a sheet I’d grabbed from our garage, and Shearon took off to deliver the loon to Avian Haven. I got her kayak out of the water and stored it in our yard for Shearon to pick up the next day.

The next morning Shearon emailed me this message: “I wanted to let you know the loon arrived safely at Avian Haven. Last night they confirmed a large lead sinker in the gizzard, and found the loon has a high level of lead in its blood, but not the worst it could be.

“They started the bird on chelation last night and will attempt a lavage technique (basically a method of rinsing the gizzard to wash out matter) later today in an attempt to remove the lead sinker. Lavage is tricky but Diane and Mark have had good success with it and they have hope for this bird’s survival!”

“The loon’s odd appearance may possibly have had to do with strange postering as a result of equilibrium difficulties, and its easy capture was probably due to fatigue and disorientation – all from the lead,” wrote Shearon.

The next day, Jane published her story and lots of photos in the Daily Bulldog. She was able to report: “The good news is that after lavage, (pouring water into the gizzard to flush out the sinker) it worked. The sinker came out! It’s now getting chelation therapy to lower the lead level to a normal range. When that happens, it will be released back to its natural environment. It’s a happy ending for what was almost another dead water bird due to human behavior.”

Boy, I was some old happy to read this, and pleased with the small role I played in the rescue of this beautiful creature.

Alas, at 9 pm that night, Jane posted this: “It is with great sadness and disappointment that I must tell you: despite a successful lavage procedure, our friend survived only a few more hours before succumbing to lead poisoning. Everyone did all they could, and we are all heartbroken.”

Yes, indeed. And now, I must tell you the rest of the story, some of which I’m not proud of. I’ve posted that story on my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com. There’s a message in it for you and an assignment. Please read the story now, and get to work!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.