May was an exciting month for the Blackfoot Valley swans and the many people who care about them. At least 3 pairs of swans began incubating eggs on nests in Blackfoot wetlands. Two of these were the pairs that nested successfully last year, and returned to nest again at the same sites. A third pair has had a more difficult path to nesting. 6P3 as released in 2008 in the Ovando area. In 2010 she settled with 9P9 on a wetland on a private ranch and set up a territory, but these swans were too young to nest yet. 6P3 and 9P9 spent the summer there, migrated south for the winter, and returned in the spring of 2011 to their territory, 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 site she had chosen and stayed there alone that summer until she was joined late in the summer by four young swans that had been released nearby. Again she migrated south and returned in the spring of 2012 to her territory, this time with another mate. (This new swan has 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 this spring.
At least twenty trumpeters have returned to the watershed this year, including the five cygnets that were hatched and raised here last year. There may be a couple more pairs of swans that will nest this year. Trumpeter swans can be quite secretive around their nests, which are often hidden in tall vegetation, making the nests surprisingly difficult to find in spite of being under an enormous white bird!
In addition to our returning swans, five new young trumpeters were released north of Ovando on May 23rd. Over 200 people were present to experience the thrill of watching them enter their new home in the Blackfoot. On the blustery, chilly spring morning, 150 schoolchildren from 6 schools in the watershed arrived at the lake, along with members of the general public. The schoolkids spent an hour rotating among four different hands-on stations learning about wetland ecology, while the adults heard from swan experts about the Blackfoot program. After a stunning handmade quilt was raffled off to help fund the program, then came the culminating moment of the day. Five lucky people who won the drawings were able to each hold a swan while it was fitted with an identifying collar and leg band. Then as the crowd on shore silently watched, the swan holders opened their arms at the edge of the lake and let their beautiful captives free. Many of those watching couldn’t help but cheer as they watched the five majestic young birds swim slowly up the lake, the snowy mountains of the Bob Marshall wilderness a distant backdrop. We wish them a safe journey in their new life!