Spring Swans

This spring has brought positive signs for the Blackfoot Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project.  At least five pairs have established or returned to territories here in the valley.  Other swans have returned and may be in the process of setting up new territories in the area.  The only pair known to successfully raise young last summer and migrate south with them last fall was sighted in southwestern Montana this winter, and the family of 2 adults and 2 surviving cygnets returned to the Ovando area in March, along with many other swans.

Several unbanded swans have also been sighted here this spring.  These are very likely swans that hatched here in the Blackfoot in 2011 and 2012 and have been returning from their wintering locations each year.  Although they don’t have bands, each year since the first cygnets hatched in the valley we have seen them return in the spring with their parents.  Although positive identification can’t be made once they have their adult plumage, it’s highly likely that at least most of the unbanded swans we now see are those first generation Blackfoot trumpeters.  In fact, some of those are old enough that they may begin to set up territories of their own this year, and we could have a second generation hatching here in the next year or so!

One change to the Swan Restoration Project this year is in the release of young birds.  Due to variation in the availability of the swans raised in captivity, this year we will have cygnets rather than 1-year-old swans to release.  Because these younger swans will be more vulnerable to mortality without adults to guide and protect them, especially before they can fly, they won’t be released into the wild until early this fall.  That will give them time to grow bigger, stronger, and wiser before being on their own.  There is a good chance that after their release they will join up with older Blackfoot swans, giving them opportunities to learn from them before beginning migration later in the fall.

The Blackfoot Swan Release will be in early September this year.  Stay tuned for a specific date as more information becomes available.  And in the meantime, don’t forget to look for the big white birds in local wetlands and turn your sightings in to the Blackfoot Challenge or enter them online at www.blackfootchallenge.org/SwanProject!

 

 

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.

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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