Help scientists study the health and behavior of common loons wintering in a freshwater ecosystem, which has never before been investigated. Join Dr. Jay Mager, Jocassee Wild Outdoor Education, and Jocassee Lake Tours as we continue the work sponsored by Earthwatch for the past three years.



This is the fourth year of an ongoing study to examine the wintering behavior of Common Loons in freshwater environments. By studying Common Loons in a pristine environment, scientists can better understand the factors that influence their health and survival in the winter. Although loons typically winter in marine environments along coastlines, some now use freshwater reservoirs.  Roughly 150 loons winter each year in Lake Jocassee. Wintering in freshwater lakes in the southeast is relatively new in the life  history of loons. The building of large fresh water reservoirs in the southeast started with the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930’s. Lake Jocassee one of the newest reservoirs in the region, completed in 1973. It is not known exactly when loons starting using these reservoirs as stay-over locations and there is simply no reference to it in the scientific literature before this century. Thanks to the past three years of support by Earthwatch, an ongoing research project is well underway to study Common Loon behaviors in this new environment. Their general health, feeding and molting behaviors, and patterns of sociability all are the focus of this ongoing research.

Lake Jocassee is a pristine mountain lake situated in the heart of the Jocassee Gorges in the mountains of Upstate South Carolina, a region National Geographic declared as one of the 50 last great wild places on earth. Lake Jocassee is a wilderness reservoir, with four mountain rivers and dozens of creeks that empty into it. There are multiple waterfalls that cascade into the lake. Many Bald Eagles populate the lake, and other waterbird species - including hundreds of Horned Grebes - are common on the lake in winter. At approximately 9000 acres and 90 miles of shoreline, it is a relatively small reservoir, making it ideal for the study of loons. In most any weather conditions loons can be located and studied with relative ease. The approachability of the loons on Lake Jocassee is always a surprise to new volunteers and researchers. It is not unusual for loons to be calmly going about their daily business within a boat length or two of the observers. Most all the research is conducted from the boats. During the two week period scheduled for the 2020 session, expect to witness molting, preening and bathing behaviors, group foraging - including the ‘herding’ of schools of small forage fish - and departure behaviors as loons prepare for and begin to leave the lake in early March. The results of the research will be used to raise awareness about the importance of reservoirs as habitat for loons and other waterbirds, and how to best monitor and manage them.

Dr. Jay Mager is a Professor of Biological & Allied Health Sciences at Ohio Northern University, where he teaches courses in ecology, ornithology, and animal behavior. He is also a book review editor for the American Ornithological Society.  Jay's life of loonacy began as a young boy spending his summers in northern Ontario, and he is fortunate to have worked with many individuals and mentors who share his interests in loon biology and conservation.  Jay has studied loon communication and breeding behavior on breeding lakes in the United States and Canada, and has participated in this study of wintering loons on Lake Jocassee for the past three years.  He has always been fascinated by these charismatic birds, and has spent most of his life learning more about the ecological and behavioral requirements necessary for loon survival and reproductive success.

Jay earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in biology at Hiram College, where he conducted a senior thesis with Dr. Judy McIntyre (Utica College at Syracuse University) researching loon parental behavior in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.  He earned his Master of Science degree in zoology at Miami University, where he completed a research project in the Ottawa National Forest within Michigan’s Upper Peninsula - in collaboration with Dr. David Evers and under the supervision of Dr. David Osborne - that examined how chick age and brood size influenced loon parental behavior.  He earned his Ph.D. in neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University, where in collaboration with his mentor, Dr. Charles Walcott, he examined the behaviors by which Common Loons acquire and defend breeding territories, focusing on the context and conditions by which males give a male-specific call, the yodel, in northcentral Wisconsin.

Dr. Mager's achievements in the field include:

  • 2013-14 ONU Elanor H., and Robert W. Biggs Chair in the Sciences
  • 2010 ONU Interfraternity & Panhellenic Council Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year
  • 2008 ONU College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher of the Year
Paruk, J., Chickering, M., Mager, J., Wilkie, S., and R. Espie. 2018.  Initial indications of PAH exposure in Saskatchewan Common Loons.  FACETS  doi: 10.1139/facets-2018-0009.
Mager, J.N. and C. Walcott. 2014.  Dynamics of an aggressive vocalization in the Common Loon (Gavia immer): A review.  Waterbirds 37 (Special Publication 1): 37-46.
Mager, J.N., Walcott, C., and W.H. Piper. 2012. Male common loons (Gavia immer) signal greater aggressive motivation by lengthening territorial yodels. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 124: 74-81.
Piper, W., Mager, J., and C. Walcott. 2011. Marking loons, making progress. American Scientist 99:220-227.
Mager, J.N., Walcott, C., and W.H. Piper. 2010. Common Loons can differentiate between yodels of territorial neighbors from non-neighbors. Journal of Field Ornithology 81: 392-401.


"Studying loons as a graduate student, I became quite interested in the mechanisms by which loons select and actively defend breeding territories. Dr. Charles Walcott at Cornell University really helped me explore ideas as to how vocal communication plays into this process. It's quite interesting that, although the loon vocal repertoire is one of the most characteristic features of the northern wilderness, we know very little about what these individuals are saying about themselves and to each other through their fascinating vocal signals. We've only begun to learn about these intriguing calls." ~Dr. Jay Mager 

Jay’s website: https://www.onu.edu/node/37167



Brooks and his wife Kay own and operate Jocassee Lake Tours. From the time Brooks worked as a young man as a commercial fisherman in the northern Gulf of Mexico he has been under 'the spell of the loon'. For the past ten years he has been a keen and constant observer of Jocasssee loons, and it is his persistent interest in and passion for these loons that ultimately drew the attention of loon scientists and Earthwatch. Brooks and Kay are also founders of Jocassee Wild Outdoor Education, a non-profit dedicated to outdoor education within the Jocassee Gorges.



When you arrive, the researchers will conduct an orientation and brief you on the work you’ll be doing. Field work will begin on the second day, where you will be involved with daytime loon behavior observations, including the use of photography and videography to record individual and group loon behaviors and quantify the molting sequence and pattern. Nighttime capture and banding of loons will be attempted at least once each week. In the evenings, you’ll head back to the field station for dinner, an informal talk by Dr. Mager, and time to relax.  
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DATES: SESSION ONE, February 23-29  SESSION TWO, March 1-7

COST:  $1400 per person for one session; $2600 per person for both sessions. This includes lodging and all meals. 

COST FOR LOCAL COMMUTERS: $875 per person for one session, $1600 per person for both sessions.

RESERVATIONS: There are only 12 spots per session available for volunteers, so early registration is highly recommended. Please call (864) 280-5501 or Book Online to reserve your spot.
CANCELLATIONS: Cancellations up to 30 days in advance will be fully refunded. All reservations are final within the last 30 days.


Volunteers will be staying together in 2 or 3 bedroom villas at Devils Fork State Park. These clean and comfortable villas are fully furnished and include linens, all kitchen appliances, basic cooking and eating utensils, heat, air conditioning, fireplace, microwave, satellite television, complimentary wi-fi, automatic coffee maker, screened porch, charcoal grill and picnic table. 



The living circumstance is communal, and all meals are shared. Volunteers are expected to help with basic housekeeping. Breakfast and lunch preparation will be by each volunteer; evening meal preparation and cleanup will be provided.


The Greenville-Spartanburg Airport (GSP) is the point of arrival and departure for those arriving by plane. All transportation to and from GSP is provided at no extra cost. 
Brooks Wade
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(864) 973-1264

CONTACT US: info@jocasseewild.org

Phone: 864-280-5502