Outdoors

Biologist details last days of senior trumpeter swan at Turnbull Refuge

A trumpeter swan called Solo has frequented Turnbull Refuge for at least three decades. (Rajah Bose / FILE The Spokesman-Review)
A trumpeter swan called Solo has frequented Turnbull Refuge for at least three decades. (Rajah Bose / FILE The Spokesman-Review)

WILDLIFE – Today’s “Swan song” Outdoors feature in the Sunday Sports section tells the inspiring story of a senior swan at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

I dubbed him “Solo” when I wrote the 2002 column about the widower swan that kept returning to Turnbull without a mate.

But his perseverance paid off in 2009 when he finally bonded with a mate and sired the first hatch of cygnets on the refuge in 22 years. They repeated in 2010 with another brood.

Now it appears certain that Solo is gone. I’ve held off on the story since late January, working with refuge biologist Mike Rule to make certain that Solo didn’t show up as he has for about four decades.

A male trumpeter swan was found dead from lead poisoning nearby on Badger Lake in January. Rule does not think it was Solo, but he’s not sure. Unfortunately, the swan was not aged in the WSU necropsy.

Following is a long series of excerpts from my email correspondence with Rule, detailing the reasoning behind his belief that while Solo is gone, the legacy of his mate and offspring are alive and giving hope for a trumpeter swan future at Turnbull.

Mike Rule, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, responded to my early February request for information on the first trumpeter swan sightings of the year with sad news that Solo appeared to have arrived and then diseappeared.

A refuge visitor reported seeing 10 swans together on Cheever Lake on Jan. 22. This number corresponds to observations of Solo, his mate, five cygnets and three sub-adults remaining from the 2009 crop of cygnets.

Following are two of several subsequent emails from Mike Rule:

Feb. 22, 2011

We have had Trumpeters off and on since January 1.

A group of 10 – which could have been Solo, his mate, the 2010 cygnets and the surviving 2009 cygnets – was seen on both Williams and Badger Lake.

We got a report of a sick Swan on Badger Lake on 1/3/2011. We were able to catch it on 1/4. It was brought to WSU for diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately it passed away on 1/16. It was an adult male. The cause of death was lead poisoning. There was a small piece of metal in its digestive track but it was too small and worn down to tell what it was originally. It’s possible in feeding the swan picked up a lead sinker or old spent lead shot.

The big question of course is whether this swan was Solo or another male. It had no markings. Since that time we have consistently seen a group of 5 swans (1 adult and 4 cygnets). This is likely Solo's family group minus one adult and a cygnet.

The adult with the 4 cygnets rarely calls which is unlike Solo.

So it seems that we may have lost Solo and one of his 2010 cygnets. We have seen other trumpeter swans in the area that do not appear to be part of the Turnbull flock. There were 9 trumpeter swans all adults seen on a pond off Lance Hill road on 1/16 and another group of 7 swans flew over Cheever on 2/21 while the group of 5 was on Middle Pine Lake.

In talking with a swan biologist in Oregon and the Executive Director of the Trumpeter Swan Society, John Cornely, there are a lot more trumpeters floating around in the Pacific Northwest with the past relocation of birds form Wyoming and Idaho to Summer Lake Oregon. If we did lose Solo, hopefully one of these other swans will form a pair pond with Solo's widow.

Its not good news, but there's still hope for the Trumpeter Swans at Turnbull with the 7 cygnets Solo has sired.

 March 28, 2011

A refuge visitor reported seeing 10 swans together on Cheever Lake on Jan. 22. This number corresponds to observations of Solo, his mate, five cygnets and three sub-adults remaining from the 2009 crop of cygnets.

On Jan. 26, refuge staff recorded the first observation of one adult with just four cygnets. It is possible we lost Solo and a cygnet sometime between Jan. 22 and Jan. 26.

 That adult swan with four cygnets has continued to stay at the refuge. Close examination of photos compared with photos of Solo and his recent mate leave biologists pretty sure the remaining adult is Solo's mate.

The male swan found dead at Badger Lake died from lead poisoning, according to the WSU veterinarian who performed the necropsy. The source of the lead is unknown, but it could have been spent shot or a fishing sinker.

Unfortunately, they did not get a definitive age estimate on the bird.

I'm not sure I am ready to call the lead poisoned swan, Solo. In the hand, he just didn't seem big enough. I held Solo in 1995 when we replaced his band. He was a handful.

At any rate, I am sure that we lost Solo and one of his 2010 cygnets this winter.

What does the future hold? We still have a breeding age female, Solo's widow, that can form a new pair bond with one of the male trumpeters that we see coming through the refuge area in early spring.

Hopefully they would nest at Turnbull . There are also Solo's three cygnets from 2009 and the four from 2010. They will reach breeding age in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

There have actually been quite a few trumpeter swans seen in the area since the first of the year, and anyone of these could be potential partners for Solo's offspring.

Sad news, but Solo may have opened the door for the restoration of trumpeters at Turnbull with his efforts these past two years.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

By Rich Landers richl@spokesman.com (509) 459-5508


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