Archive for Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Trumpeter swans find refuge again at Bear Lake

February 8, 2006

Every morning and afternoon, David Isabell feeds more than 150 hungry, honking guests behind his house. Isabell lives at Bear Lake, where for three consecutive years a large flock of Canada geese, nine trumpeter swans and two other birds have called home.

"I don't know where they came from," Isabell said of the trumpeters.

"You could tell they came a long way," he said of the swans' first appearance. "They ate and ate and ate."

Isabell, a retired city manager for Kansas City, Kan., estimated he feeds all the birds 25 pounds of dried corn a day.

At least four of the swans came from a reintroduction program in Iowa.

Dave Hoffman, a technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, was responsible for putting the identification collars on four of the trumpeters now at Bear Lake.

Last year, when told the numbers on four of the Bear Lake swans' collars, he recalled them instantly.

He said one of them, a male marked "F02," was one of the oldest swans released through the Iowa program. The bird originally came from Washington State and was released in 1995, he said. He said three of the other birds were offspring of F02.

Hoffman said last year that there had been 27 reports of sightings of where F02 had been since 1995.

He said Kansas ranked third, after Iowa and Missouri, for sightings of trumpeter swans.

Madeleine Linck, a biologist and administrative assistant for the Trumpeter Swan Society, based in Maple Plain, Minn., said the swans, the largest waterfowl species on the continent, are native to North America.

By 1900 the birds were hunted nearly to extinction, she said. In 1935, the U.S. government established the Red Rock Refuge in Montana to protect the swans. And gradually, their numbers increased, through the refuge and the work of states such as Iowa.

Iowa began its restoration project in 1995, raising the birds from zoo eggs. As of 2005, Hoffman said the program had released 570 trumpeters.

With help from reintroduction programs such as Iowa's, Linck said, the birds' breeding population has increased to about 5,000 in the contiguous United States, mostly in 15 states. About 4,000 of those are in the Midwest. There are now about 23,000, she said, throughout North America.

However, Linck said, most states still list trumpeter swans as either threatened or endangered.

Both Isabell and his wife, Patricia, enjoy the birds that stop at the private Bear Lake, which includes 83 acres set aside as a state wildlife sanctuary and a safe haven for the birds.

The swans at Bear Lake, whose wingspan Isabell said can reach seven feet, first came to the lake after a flock of mute swans -- so-called because they don't honk -- came to the lake in February 2004. The mute swans left in March that year, and returned in December. They did the same last year. When the trumpeters returned this time, another, much smaller bird came with them: a yellow-eyed, red-footed Egyptian goose. Isabell said he didn't know whether the bird escaped from a zoo or somehow got lost while migrating over the arctic.

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