Roseville resident Richard Lewis didn't notice anything unusual at first when he went to photograph loons on Snail Lake in Shoreview this month.
"It wasn’t until after I left and looked at the photographs that I noticed what looked like a fishing lure was attached to a baby loon," Lewis recounted.
Lewis' keen eye prompted a search and rescue effort that ultimately saved the life of the young loon over the Fourth of July weekend.
"It was lucky, everybody was in the right place at the right time," said Anthony Fulda, a Robbinsdale resident who rescues wildlife with the local nonprofit, Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release.
Lewis made a call to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, who in turn contacted WRR to arrange for a rescue.
The next morning, Fulda and a group of fellow volunteers grabbed kayaks and headed to the lake. Scanning the lake with binoculars, Fulda spotted one loon and the group headed out onto the water in that direction.
The mother loon was very agitated, Fulda said, and the younger loon wasn't in sight — then, the group spotted the bird on the shore.
The fishing tackle that'd been stuck to the loon's side when Lewis photographed the bird on the water had since caused the animal to become entangled in tree branches.
The loon couldn't move anything besides its head by the time rescuers arrived.
Fulda said the volunteers cut the branches around the loon rather than attempting to untangle the bird themselves — with tree branches still attached, Fulda wrapped the loon in the blanket and placed the bundle on his lap in the kayak.
The other volunteers then towed Fulda and the precious cargo back to shore — once on land, the WRC in Roseville was the next stop for the loon.
"The timing on the loon rescue was so critical," explained Tami Vogel, the WRC's communications and development director.
While the WRC is the busiest wildlife hospital of its kind in the world, the organization itself doesn't conduct rescues, and instead relies on caring Minnesotans and a network of volunteers to deliver animals to the hospital for treatment.
Luckily, the young loon rescued in Shoreview was able to be freed from the entanglement without sustaining any injuries, Vogel said. After a few hours in the WRC's care, the loon was able to be returned to the lake.
Quick timing is especially critical for loon rescues, Vogel said. The species experiences high levels of stress in captivity and can quickly develop a condition that leads to suffocation.
"We're just so thankful that we have such a wonderful network of people here in the state," she said. "There's a reason we are the busiest wildlife hospital in the world and it's because Minnesotans are so passionate about wildlife."
Fulda's wife, Gretchen Strate, leads the WRR's volunteer-powered rescue team.
Strate said calls for loon rescues within the metro area are somewhat uncommon, but calls relating to improperly discarded fishing gear are not.
"We just hope that people would dispose of their fishing tackle properly — and clean it up if you see it," she said.
After the young loon was released, Lewis returned to Snail Lake with his camera — there, he found the mother once again doting on her young.