A Wooden Raft Built for Loons Unites People

U.S.Fish&Wildlife Alaska
5 min readNov 18, 2022


The handcrafted wooden raft — recently outfitted with a brand-new camouflage canopy and livestream video camera — quietly drifts around its anchor on Connors Lake in Anchorage, Alaska. Waterbirds dabble on the shallow waters, while people play with their dogs on the shoreline and jets fly overhead from the nearby Ted Stevens International Airport. The raft awaits the arrival of a pair of Pacific loons. If all goes well, they will successfully nest and fledge a chick or two.

Of the five species, Pacific loons are the most widely distributed, spending summers on lakes across Alaska and winters along the southeast Alaska coastline to as far south as Baja, California. In Anchorage, Pacific loons traditionally nested on Connors Lake where residents Jean Tam and Scott Christy enjoyed watching them each summer.

Over time, the couple became concerned with potentially harmful human activity around the lake and sought ways to protect the species. In 2003, with help from Anchorage Audubon and fellow loon enthusiasts, they handcrafted and launched the wooden raft with a livestream camera to share Connors Lake’s loons with the world. For more than 15 years, they and their fellow enthusiasts launched and retrieved the raft each summer for Pacific loons to nest.

The first image shows Jean Tam and Scott Christy assembling the wooden raft before towing it to its anchor in Connors Lake. The second image shows the wooden raft floating on Connors Lake.
In spring of 2012, Jean Tam (left) and Scott Christy (right) assemble the wooden raft before towing it to its anchor in Connors Lake. 📷 AK Conservation Foundation

In 2019, the couple tragically died in an airplane accident. Tam and Christy made the world of these Pacific loons accessible to so many by building this floating platform and placing the original cameras to livestream the comings and goings. Exposure to such intimate details of loon life from nest building to chick hatching creates an emotional investment, which can translate to conservation action.

Their legacy is carried on by the Jean Tam Loon Conservation Endowment Fund, led by the Alaska Conservation Foundation, which supports the Connors Lake raft project as well as other loon conservation efforts across Alaska. “To continue their legacy with their friends and family has been deeply rewarding,” said Max Goldman, the science director of Reddish Egret Ecology and manager of the Connors Lake loon project. “Everyone doesn’t get a legacy. Jean and Scott do, though, and that’s a testament to the people they were and the lives they touched, bird and human alike.”

First image is two biologist building a camouflage canopy for the wooden raft with a tree line and houses in the background. Second image is a close up of Zeller’s hands showing the bedding that will be placed on the raft. Third image is Goldman in a canoe setting the canopy onto the floating raft.
Tamara Zeller and Max Goldman build the new camouflage canopy for the wooden raft (left). Zeller shows the bedding that will be placed on the raft (center). Goldman mounts the camouflage canopy to the wooden raft in Connors Lake. 📷 USFWS, Grace Rodgers and Tamara Zeller

This past May, Goldman and Tamara Zeller, a migratory bird biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Region, teamed up to install the new camouflage canopy and livestream video camera on the raft. The team would periodically tune in to the livestream to see and hear what was going on.

“Listening to the loons and the sounds of urban life just brought it up a level,” said Zeller. “I found myself obsessing over the camera and was completely emotionally invested. It was like watching a soap opera and not knowing what you might see when you turned on the camera.”

Goldman also thought it was like watching a soap opera. “There was always something ridiculous going on when I tuned in,” he said. “From otters taking over the raft for a nap to some “not safe for work” loon activity, eggs arriving, an adorable chick hatching, and the tragedy of an unhatched egg. It was emotionally exhausting.”

Over the next few months, the Pacific loons would come to know the raft as home — at least for the summer.


Hidden camera view within a wooden raft with a Pacific loon arriving to the entrance.
One Pacific loon checks out the wooden raft, May 13, 2022.


Hidden camera view inside a raft with two Pacific loon eggs in a nest.
The female Pacific loon lays two eggs several days apart, the first, May 24, 2022, the second, May 27, 2022.


Hidden camera view inside a raft with two Pacific loon eggs in a nest and the pacific loons hatching from the eggs.
The first Pacific loon chick hatches and emerges, June 20, 2022.

Parental Care

Hidden camera view within a wooden raft with a Pacific loon and a chick under its wing.
One day after hatching, the first Pacific loon chick nestles under one parent’s wing, June 21, 2022
Hidden camera view inside a raft with one Pacific loon chick and one egg in a nest with two adult Pacific loons at the entrance.
The first Pacific loon chick rests alongside the unsuccessful second egg, June 26, 2022. Zeller speculates the extended time between egg lays may have contributed to the unsuccessful second egg.


A Pacific loon chick swims with a parent Pacific loon outside a nest raft on a lake.
The Pacific loon chick (right) swims with one parent (left) on August 12, 2022. Eighteen days later, one parent and the loon chick leave Connors Lake.


Hidden camera view with black and white night vision view inside a raft with a muskrat at the entrance.
A muskrat climbs on to the wooden raft to sniff around, May 13, 2022.
Hidden camera view inside a raft with two river otters inside.
A pair of river otters lounge on the wooden raft, May 22, 2022.
Hidden camera view inside a raft with a Mallard inside near a Pacific loon egg.
A mallard duck rests on the raft, July 4, 2022.

Thanks to the work of the Alaska Conservation Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Region, the handcrafted wooden raft successfully supported the nesting and fledging of a Pacific loon once again. “This summer, the Connors Lake loon project added one more loon to the world and that feels good,” said Goldman.

The story of the Connors Lake loons highlights not only the passion that devoted naturalists Jean Tam and Scott Christy had for the loons and the natural world, but also the importance of protecting these species from harmful human activity. “The continuation of Jean and Scott’s work is tremendously rewarding,” said Zeller. “I hope the project generates in other urban dwellers a connection to and respect for the wildlife just outside their doors.”

Loon populations worldwide are declining due to habitat loss, human disturbance, and environmental pollution from heavy metals, such as mercury and lead. Lead is toxic to loons and other wildlife when ingested and often leads to death. Death from lead poisoning has been shown to have population-level effects on common loons in areas of the lower 48 states.

While it is important to understand what is happening with loons at a population level, change often comes from the passions we develop in our own backyards. You can help loons by:

  • Leaving the shoreline of lakes, islands and marshy areas undeveloped.
  • Keeping pets on leashes unless you are in a designated off-leash area and your pet is under voice control.
  • Recycling fishing line to prevent loons and other wildlife from becoming entangled.
  • Using non-toxic, lead-free fishing tackle like steel, tin, tungsten, and bismuth sinkers and asking your local retailer to keep these alternatives in stock.
  • Picking up hooks and tackle.

Tour the lakes of the largest city in North America where loons nest and produce offspring: A Loon’s-Eye View of Anchorage

Authored by Andrea Medeiros, External Affairs, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Grace Rodgers, Science Applications, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

In Alaska we are shared stewards of world renowned natural resources and our nation’s last true wild places. Our hope is that each generation has the opportunity to live with, live from, discover and enjoy the wildness of this awe-inspiring land and the people who love and depend on it.

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