If you happen to hear a bugle-like call on area lakes this summer, take note. Trumpeter swans are the likely source—and their presence in the Fort Frances area is a big deal.
The trumpeter was hunted nearly to extinction early in the 20th century and, until the 1980s, hadn’t been seen in Ontario for nearly 100 years.
It’s been making a comeback across the province over the last two decades, thanks to the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program, which focused on producing a self-sustaining population of 500 wild stock trumpeters and at least 100 breeding pairs.
Through years of captive breeding, wild offspring were released until, by
2004, 500 wild trumpeters were alive and well in southern Ontario.
Similar swan restoration programs have existed in the U.S. Midwest since 1982 and broods from Minnesota are thought to have headed north to the Kenora area to nest.
Numbers of swans there were estimated at 52 last year.
Thanks to a recent helicopter survey of about 250 km of area waters and marshlands by the local Ministry of Natural Resources, trumpeter swans were found to be in numbers that clearly show the nesting population is healthy in the Rainy Lake area, too.
“We had a unique opportunity this year because the gentleman who is running the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program for Ontario called us up and said, ‘Can you go do some [swan] inventory for the Amherst Wildlife Foundation?’” local MNR area biologist Darryl McLeod noted last week.
This was the first time the local MNR office had done an official trumpeter swan survey, though it did report to the restoration program last year on a few bird sightings during a routine fish and wildlife inventory.
“This year we saw a total of 45 birds, 10 of those were signets born this year, six nests, and the rest were all non-breeding birds or immatures,” said McLeod.
“This time of year, you get a combination of non-breeders just hanging around.
“And since we flew [the survey], one of our fire crews found one more nesting site for us. That makes seven nesting sites in all,” added McLeod.
Trumpeter swans often build their large nests on top of muskrat or beaver push-ups in wetlands, where they find the most security from predators like the fox.
The female lays four-six eggs, and both parents tend the young.
“We found one nest last year and found the same [breeding pair] this year one kilometre away in the same type of wetland,” McLeod said, noting that identification was made by the same numbered yellow neck band recorded last year.
McLeod also reported that sighting to the Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin, which uses the yellow bands to register trumpeters before their release into the wild.
The DNR confirmed the birds had been raised in captivity there.
Banded swans from Minnesota have not been seen around here, but are plentiful in the Kenora area.
Harry Lumsden is a retired MNR research scientist but still oversees the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program he spearheaded in 1982.
He maintains close relationships to swan management areas in southern Ontario and his dedication to wildlife conservation earned him the Order of Canada in 2004.
He wasn’t surprised by the number of trumpeter swans found here—and believes there’s more than meets the eye.
“When we have that many [swans] in Kenora, I figured we’d have some scattered around the Fort Frances District,” Lumsden speculated last week from his home in Aurora, Ont., north of Toronto.
“In fact, if there was a really systematic survey done, spending a lot more air time, I think we’d find a lot more birds,” he added.
“We have been concentrating on restoring trumpeters to the area between Sudbury and Lake Ontario, from the Bruce Peninsula over to Rice Lake, and we had 524 of them last year, and I expect about 580 wild trumpeters in that area this year.
“There’s probably 100 birds in the western region [Fort Frances and Kenora areas] and there was also a brood up near Dryden last year,” Lumsden noted.
“[Thoughts] are that there are more trumpeter swans between Dryden and Tide Lake [75 km northeast of Kenora],” continued Lumsden. “The first thing I heard about trumpeter swans in the [north] west of Ontario is when we got a report from a minnow fisherman around 1998.
“He reported seeing a brood of swans and we didn’t get on the ball until later on and did some flying and found a few birds in the Tide Lake, Oak Lake, English River system.
“One bird on Tide Lake was carrying a orange wing tag,” said Lumsden. “This was a Minnesota bird and it was obvious then, that in the restoration program there, the birds were swamping over into [Northwestern] Ontario.”
Meanwhile, McLeod encouraged the public to report sightings of trumpeter swans to the local MNR office.
“If we can get people to report to us if they see nesting birds or a pair of birds that look like they may have tried to nest in wetlands, that would be great,” McLeod stressed.
Some $5,000 in funding was made available for the local trumpeter swan survey through the Amherst Wildlife Foundation.