Fall Flights

Blackfoot Valley Trumpeter Swans are moving about the valley in preparation for their fall migration.  On a small lake in the Ovando area a few days ago, twenty-one trumpeters were found resting along the shore.  It was quite a sight to come over a hill and see all those big white birds!  Five more swans were on a nearby wetland.

This group was a great sample of the swans in our watershed.  It included nine of the ten young swans released last spring a few miles away, as well as a few that were released last year and spent the summer exploring various wetlands in the valley, and at least two of our pairs that had territories but were not successful at nesting this year (see previous posts for more information on the nesting season).  There were also four swans with no bands at all, who likely are first-generation Blackfoot Watershed swans hatched in 2011or 2012, now sporting their fully white adult plumage.

Not found in this group but present on another lake was the family of two adults and three cygnets that represent the successful nest in the watershed this year.  These cygnets hatched on July 4, and just recently started to fly.  In spite of their short period of physical training, these young birds will need to be strong enough to make a migration journey with their parents sometime in the next few weeks!

Blackfoot Valley Trumpeter Swan family in early October, 2013

Blackfoot Valley Trumpeter Swan family in early October, 2013

They will likely spend the winter in southwestern Montana, as many Blackfoot Valley swans have in the past few years, taking advantage of open water near warm springs in the Ruby River Valley.  Large ranches there, some with restored wetlands, provide a wintering haven for swans, and a number of interested local citizens keep an eye on our “shared” swans and let us know their whereabouts until they head north again in the spring.


Interesting Summer for Swans

This has been an interesting summer for the Blackfoot Trumpeter Swan Project. We had a record number of six pairs of swans set up (or return to) territories this year; very exciting news indeed.  Four of those pairs actually nested (another record number), but unfortunately only one nest succeeded in hatching young.  A wild storm with heavy rain and strong winds in June likely contributed to the failure of at least some of the nests.  The nests that failed included our two previously successful nests as well as a first attempt by a new pair.  These events certainly emphasize the relative fragility of the low populations of species like the swans, and the importance of ongoing efforts at protecting and enhancing their numbers.

However, the success of a pair that has been struggling for years to nest is very welcome indeed!  This territory was first established on a restored wetland on a private ranch in the valley by swan 6P3, who was released in 2008 in the Ovando area.  In 2010 she settled with 9P9 and set up a territory.  6P3 and 9P9 returned the following spring , likely ready to nest for the first time.  Unfortunately, a few days later 9P9 was found dead under a power line and 6P3 was left alone.

6P3 remained faithful to the territory and stayed there alone that summer.  She returned in the spring of 2012 to her territory, this time with another mate.  (This new swan had no bands, so either it has lost its bands or it is a wild swan from elsewhere that was never banded.)  After a few weeks on the wetland, they built a nest and began laying eggs in the spring.  The nest last year failed, but perseverance paid off finally for 6P3 when she and her mate hatched four cygnets on July 4 of this year!

One of the cygnets disappeared around July 22, but the three remaining cygnets seem to be healthy and growing fast.NL family July 2013


The ten swans released in May are still on the lake and associated wetlands where they were released.  They have been joined off and on by swans released last year, as well as some of our Blackfoot swans hatched here in 2011.


Please continue to send us your swan sightings this summer and fall, as opportunities for seeing trumpeter swans in the Blackfoot continue to increase!

Spring Happenings

Once again young Trumpeter Swans have been released successfully in the Blackfoot valley.  Ten young swans are enjoying their freedom and learning to live in the wild for the first time near Ovando.  Seven of these were released in a public event on May 16.  Over 100 schoolchildren from schools in and around the watershed attended the event, as well as several state leaders, including Governor Steve Bullock (see more swan release photos at www.facebook.com/blackfootchallenge).  Three additional swans were released this month to join the original seven.  They seem to be adjusting well to their new home and all are thriving.

Governor Steve Bullock (in black and red jacket) with the Ovando School (Ovando teacher Brandon Styles holding swan)

We’ve also had over 20 swans return to the valley from their wintering grounds in southwest Montana.  This includes a record number of five pairs that have set up territories this year! Four of those pairs are actually on nests, but we haven’t yet confirmed any young hatched.

Other returnees include at least 3 cygnets from last year that returned with their parents, and at least 4 two-year-olds that we think were hatched in 2011!  These two-year-olds are traveling around the valley with some swans that were released last year.

Swan Release and Breakfast Raffle

In 2011, Trumpeter Swans successfully nested and fledged cygnets in the Blackfoot Watershed for perhaps the first time in nearly two centuries. The Blackfoot Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program is a collaborative effort of private landowners, local schools, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming Wetlands Society, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Montana Wetlands Legacy, and Blackfoot Challenge. The Program includes the release of swans each year in the watershed, the monitoring of the growing swan population, and education through the Adopt-A-Swan Program.

We are raffling a chance to release a swan at the next release on May 16, 2013 near Ovando. Proceeds benefit the Swan Restoration Program and the Blackfoot Challenge Education Program.

Raffle tickets sell for $20 each and include Breakfast at the Ovando School – 7:30am, May 16th.

Drawing at the release at 9 AM
Jones Lake on the Rolling Stone Ranch, Ovando
Winner must be present to release!

To purchase Raffle Tickets click HERE (please note “Swan Raffle” in the dedication line) or send personal checks to: Blackfoot Challenge – PO Box 103, Ovando, MT 59854

RSVP for breakfast by May 14th by contacting Deb at: 793-3900 or deb@blackfootchallenge.org. Meet us at Trixi’s Bar on Hwy 200 at 8:30 to catch a ride to the release site.

Trumpeter Swan Release Event

Winter Wanderings

Blackfoot Valley Trumpeter Swans may have left our watershed for the winter, but that doesn’t mean they have been entirely out of sight.  We’ve received notice of some great observations of “our” swans in more southern locations since we last saw them in the Blackfoot.

In late November, an observer in Idaho reported seeing Swan 5A9 at a pond along a road near Challis, Idaho (approximately 185 miles south of where she was released in 2011 and spent the summer of 2012, near Ovando).

Three weeks later, on November 19, 5A9 was sighted in a flooded field just south of Rexburg ID (about 125 miles southeast of where she had been sighted near Challis).  And we received yet another sighting of 5A9, on December 30, on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River just several miles north of Rexburg.  We haven’t had any reports of 5A9 since.  Did she settle down in the Rexburg/St. Anthony’s area for the winter?  Or did she continue her wanderings in search of a favorite winter home?  At the very least, we hope to see 5A9 again this spring on a local wetland.

Go to the Adopt-A-Swan home page at http://www.blackfootchallenge.org/SwanProject/home to see a map of 5A9′s travels and other recent swan locations!

Swan 5A9 near Challis, ID on 10/31/2012
Swan 5A9 near Challis, ID on 10/31/2012

Other winter sightings include one of our Blackfoot swan families and others in the Ruby River valley near Sheridan, Montana on January 22.  In a group of 20 swans (15 adults and 5 cygnets) were 0A6, (who was released in 2010 and paired with 0A5 in 2012) and 3P6 (one of the nesting pair that successfully raised cygnets the past 2 years).    Also in the group were 3 swans with small metal leg bands only; these were likely Blackfoot birds that had lost their red collars and leg bands, and may have included the mates of 0A6 and 3P6.
At least some of the cygnets were probably from the nests in the Blackfoot in 2012 (the cygnets aren’t marked in any way, so we can’t be 100% sure of their identity once they begin to fly, but the fact that they were with at least one of the nesting adults is a good clue).

Blackfoot Trumpeters and others in the Ruby Valley

Blackfoot Trumpeters and others in the Ruby Valley

Swans 2A3, 2A5, 2A6, and 7A5 (all released in the Blackfoot last summer) were also seen near Sheridan for most of the month of February.  This area has some warm springs that maintain open water in some of the ponds and wetlands along the river even when they would otherwise be iced over.

Finally, we had one sighting of a swan with a red leg band on Hebgen Reservoir near West Yellowstone on February 11.  This was interesting because the band was spotted from an airplane by a pilot doing a survey!  Can you see the red and white band in the photo below that he took?  You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

Swans at Hebgen

Swans at Hebgen Reservoir

If you look very carefully at the photo, you may be able to see the red and white band on the swan on the far right.

I expect to begin seeing or hearing about swans back in the Blackfoot any day now.  Last year our first spring sighting of returning Blackfoot Trumpeters was on March 4.  So if you are in the Blackfoot, please look carefully at open water on ponds and wet fields as you go by them or work near them; you may see our first big white “snowbirds” returning home!