SWANS! Wild swans! But not just any wild swans--these are trumpeter swans!
Y'all know how I love hayrolls. There are plenty of them at The Wilds.
But there's something else there besides hayrolls. For one thing, there are northern harriers coursing low over the meadows.
It will probably not surprise you to know that by the early 20th century the trumpeter swan was all but extinct throughout its North American range. A bird that big, with fabulous down feathers for clothing, and edible too--well, reason enough to wipe it out. You know those white muffs that stylish ladies warmed their hands in? Trumpeter swan skins. Yuck. Quill pens? Made from the wing feathers of trumpeter swans. A high use for a vanishing bird. By 1900, they persisted only in Alaska and very remote parts of the western US. Where we couldn't get to them, basically.
Captive breeding efforts began in the early 1900's, with limited success. In 1982 the Toronto Zoo figured out how to captive-raise trumpeter swans, releasing over 180 into the wild, and many other institutions have followed their lead. Ohio got in the act in 1996. 150 birds were released at Magee Marsh, that mecca for warbler lovers on Lake Erie. Zoos and aviculturists contributed young swans to a swan conservation program at The Wilds, and these birds were augmented with eggs from wild nests in Alaska. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo hatched the eggs and kept the cygnets until they were three months old, and then they were sent to The Wilds in groups of 10-15.
Release sites are carefully selected for quality and forage.
The Wilds has a bunch of swans still hanging around. What I really love is seeing birds without big colored plastic neckbands. I'm guessing that they're the offspring of captive-reared birds. In Ohio, trumpeter swans can be seen at Magee Marsh in Ottawa Co., Mallard Club in Lucas Co., Pickerel Creek in Sandusky Co., Mosquito Creek and Grand River in Trumbull Co., Killbuck Marsh in Wayne CO, and Killdeer Plains in Wyandot Co. Cedar Point NWR also has released trumpeters.
These birds tend not to migrate, but to travel around just enough to find open water and something to eat (submerged aquatic vegetation, mostly).
We were incredibly lucky to find the water still open at The Wilds on this Sunday, January 14. By the next morning, all the ponds would have frozen over, sending the swans elsewhere.
This sign always makes me smile and think of my dad, Dale Zickefoose. He always wanted to live in the country again (he was born and raised on a farm in Iowa.)
I was mesmerized by their beauty. A 20-30 pound swan has to run over the water for a long time before it can become airborne.
Their great webbed feet leave splashtracks everywhere.
They also make quite a racket as they lift off.
Finally, they were airborne, their great clean wings slicing the air instead of slapping the water.