Loony days and weed watching in Glacier National Park

By November 15th, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Comment

A mother loon swims with her chicks in Glacier National Park.  Photo: Daniel Poleschook and Ginger Gumm.

A mother loon swims with her chicks in Glacier National Park. Photo: Daniel Poleschook and Ginger Gumm

High in the mountains of Montana’s Glacier National Park, rangers need the help of citizen scientists like you to keep an eye on local flora and fauna. As a trained volunteer, you can help survey the loon population at many of the park’s stunning alpine lakes. As you hike, keep an ear out for the Common Loon’s distinctive calls, such as the tremolo and the yodel, made by male loons to defend their territory. Once you spy a loon, use the park’s report form to record your bird count as well as any breeding and nesting behavior you observed. This research project specifically targets factors that might affect nesting success, and builds on prior research suggesting that humans can negatively impact loons’ nesting behavior.

The number of volunteers in the loon monitoring program has grown in the last few years, with more than 100 amateur naturalists helping park service members each year to complete a combined 1,000 surveys across 88 lakes in the park. Park scientists hope that data from these studies will ensure that loons continue to cackle across Glacier’s lakes for many years to come.

While loons might just sound crazy, other species are downright invasive. A second citizen science project in Glacier National Park teaches volunteers how to monitor for signs of noxious (that is, highly invasive) weeds along 700 miles of the park’s hiking trails. Some non-native plant species are relatively harmless. But others, such as the Spotted knapweed, quickly establish themselves and restrict the growth of native species by secreting a chemical into the ground that inhibits seed germination of nearby plants. In addition to out-competing native plants, invasive weeds can also decrease foraging material for wildlife and increase soil erosion.

Scientists at Glacier need the help of citizen scientists to obtain this much-needed information so that we can better understand the cycles of key plant and animal species in the park. So get on out and take a hike!

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