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How nesting loons can determine when the Deerfield River is running

by Cassie Hayden

At first glance, whitewater rafters (those folks with the colorful life vests and helmets running rapids for fun and excitement) and loons (black and white aquatic birds with a haunting call that evokes the north country) would seem to be as unrelated as ballet dancers and moose.

On the Deerfield River, however, loons mating on a reservoir over 30 miles away can influence when flows are available downstream where rafting is popular.  It’s all about when and how the loons nest - usually in May or June and ideally on an island or a tuft of vegetation surrounded by water.  As part of the federal license governing how the river is managed, the utility company that owns the dams is required to keep its most remote storage reservoir’s level stable once the loons have built their nests in late spring.  This reservoir’s fluctuations are limited until the chicks hatch in mid to late summer, freeing the utility to use water stored in the reservoir for downstream flows.  These flows generate hydroelectric power and provide the whitewater that so many people travel to the Deerfield to enjoy each summer.  Before the loons are finished nesting, water for the Deerfield comes almost entirely from a larger downstream reservoir in Wilmington, Vermont.

So whitewater rafters and loons are more co-dependent than you might think, and the next time you  feel that refreshing splash in the face as your raft crashes through a wave on the Deerfield, listen for the call of a loon way up river.

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