Archive for February, 2011

The Trumpeter Swan Society: Michigan’s AuSable River Trumpeter Swans

February 20, 2011

AuSable River Trumpeter Swans by Wayne Salmoshi

Despite blizzards, deep snow and freezing temperatures that reduce the availability of open water, Trumpeter Swans remain in northeast Michigan where warm water outflow from hydro dams help create functioning winter habitat where they can survive on natural food.

TTSS member Peggy Ridgway reports to us on a February day as blizzard conditions keep her in by her computer. On a normal day, she is often out with the Trumpeters. She shares this great photo, taken by Wayne Shawl – an avid Trumpeter Swan watcher – near Cooke Dam on the AuSable River. He captures two Trumpeters swimming next to a merganser – quite a comparison in size!

Peggy was one of a number of observers that helped with the 2010 North American Trumpeter Swan Survey. Her area of interest covers four counties of northeastern Michigan, including all or portions of Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, and Ogemaw counties. The survey was conducted by the Forest Service and the AuSable Valley Audubon Society. Together, they attempted to cover all suitable habitats within the proclamation boundary of the Huron National Forest. Paul Thompson, Wildlife Biologist – Huron – Manistee National Forest, sends these summary numbers.

2010 Trumpeter Swan Survey Alcona, Iosco, Oscoda, Ogemaw
August/September 2010
US Forest Service and AuSable Valley AudubonAlcona County:   21 Adult Trumpeters, 12 cygnets   at 7 locations. Iosco County:     19  Adult Trumpeters, 1 cygnet     at 6 locations
Oscoda County:    1  Adult Trumpeter,  0 cygnets    at 1 location
Ogemaw County: 13  Adult Trumpeters, 0 cygnets   at 3 locations

Here are some of her more recent counts and locations for the winter of 2010/2011:

Dec. 7- 75 at Westgate (just up river from 5- Channels Dam 

Dec. 7- 50+ at Pine Acres ( just below 5- Channels Dam)  

Dec. 8- 134  28 were cygnets in this total group

Dec. 9-150+ below Cooke, 110 at Pine Acres, 10 Westgate This was a banner day!  Perhaps we caught part of a migration??

Dec. 12- 62 below Cooke

Dec. 31- 67 below Cooke

Dec. 22-21 at Alcona Pond ( another Dam on the AuSable)  However, the pond was frozen over and these birds were on the ic

2011: Jan. 12- 62 below Cooke


Wintering Swans of the Au Sable River Area by Ed Cole

Jan. 17- 44 below Cooke

* Further background on AuSable River swans (from our TTSS ENEWS of September, 2009):

Trumpeter Swans are thriving on Michigan’s scenic Au Sable River, thanks to the shared efforts of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, Consumers Energy, Huron-Manistee National Forest and members of the AuSable Valley Audubon Society. Birdwatchers know the area and the town of Mio for a much smaller signature species – the Kirtland’s Warbler, an extremely rare , endangered songbird which winters in the Bahamas. The river is locally prized for recreation: canoeing, rafting, tubing and world-class fly-fishing. Known as one of the finest trout fisheries in the world, fall brings legendary Steelhead runs to a section of the river near Foote Dam. Consumer’s Energy owns and operates six hydroelectric dams along the Au Sable and the neighboring Manistee and Muskegon rivers and a good deal of property, along with U.S. National Forest Service, along the shorelines. The area is rich in wetlands – reservoirs, lakes and ponds, and overflow areas associated with beavers. In 1997 and 1998 14 Trumpeter Swans, raised by Michigan State University’s Kellogg Sanctuary were released as part of Michigan’s restoration efforts.

The nesting flock is now self-sustaining and find year-round needs met nearby. Several sections of the river stay open due to outflow from hydroelectric power plants. Members of the AuSable Valley Audubon chapter recorded 138 Trumpeters wintering in the area in a recent winter. The cooperative partners teamed up to produce a striking, colorful brochure to educate the public on Trumpeters’ needs. The area is rich in food so managers ask the public not to feed the swans.  They ask fisherman to remove all used fishing gear. Protective adult birds can protect some of their young from predators such as northern pike, snapping turtles and Bald Eagles, but can do little against hidden threats caused by lead sinkers (mistaken for food) and pre-regulation lead shot, still in our wetland systems.

The Trumpeter Swan Society February 2011 Photograph of the Month

February 10, 2011

Trumpeter Swans in Flight by Hal Everett

Professional Photographer and TTSS Photo-of-the-Month host Greg Smith says:

Hal’s flight shot of five swans against a dark sky with rapidly changing lighting shows how planning, knowing the capabilities of your camera and looking for the appropriate composition create an exceptional photograph.

From my perspective, a photograph with a well illuminated subject in front of a dark background just makes the subject “pop” out of the picture.  This is a stunning example of that technique.

As a photographer you get to choose the type of lighting you want (or hopefully will get) for your subject, so you need to be aware of changing conditions and where best to take advantage of what is offered you. Hal had the foresight to use his local knowledge of where to find the swans and then to position himself in a situation where the sun was at his back and the dark clouds were away from his position.

If you read Hal’s write up on his camera settings you will see he is a fan of high speed photography.  An exposure of 1/3200 second would require a great deal of ambient light, or, you bump your ISO up, which is what Hal did.  The higher the ISO you set your camera on, the faster the exposure you can shoot.  So most of us shoot at 100 or 200 ISO and our exposure would have been 1/500 of a second.  The extra fast speed allows for a much sharper image, something Hal used to the photograph’s advantage.

Taking a number of shots is a necessity to get the right composition with flying bird (although it can happen with a single shot).  As you follow the birds through your viewfinder you are always looking for the opportunity to have each bird’s head visible in the shot.  There is nothing worse than having a great shot turn into a not-so-good shot because of a headless bird.  Setting your camera on a burst mode is one way to ensure that you can fire away, which enhances the chance of coming up with a stunning composition like Hal’s

Hal shows his knowledge of the subject, the capabilities of his camera and the patience and timing to create an outstanding photograph!

Featured Photographer for February, 2011 – Hal Everett, Western Washington

I have been a serious amateur wildlife and underwater photographer since 1992 have won a competition in both categories.   My favorite avian subjects are Trumpeter Swans and Peregrine Falcons.  I live in Western Washington, where both of these species winter in substantial numbers.   I am a member of The Trumpeter Swan Society and participated in a Trumpeter Swan rescue in 2010.

I  located a large flock of Trumpeters in a cornfield late in the afternoon of 11/26/2010 while searching in Snohomish County, WA.  I positioned myself  West of the Swans.  To the East were many dark clouds stacked up in front of the Cascade Mountains.  Behind me, to the West, were scattered clouds with occasional sun breaks and the sun low in the sky.  Single swans, pairs, and family groups were constantly flying to and from the field.  Because the background was so dark I knew that the camera would tend to overexpose the swans in flight, and found that an exposure compensation of -1.5 EV produced a pleasing result.   My initial images were all of swans flying in front of trees, power lines, houses and railroad tracks.  Eventually, a few of the swans began flying above all of the ground clutter, with nothing but dark clouds in the background.  As this group of five ascended, the sun shone through a break in the clouds behind me, illuminating the swans in perfect light with nothing but dark, purple blue clouds behind them.  Because a super-telephoto lens has such a shallow depth of focus, the clouds in the background were uniformly blurred.  I used an exposure of 1/3200 second, f6.3, and ISO 500.

We are pleased that Hal  was willing to share this “keeper” shot in support of Trumpeter Swans and The Trumpeter Swan Society. Find more of his images at

Trumpeter Watch: 2010 Iowa Update – by Dave Hoffman

February 8, 2011

Banded Swan at Beemer's Pond, Iowa by Bill Schuerman

The Iowa midwinter survey tallied 289 Trumpeter swans in Iowa during the first week of January 2011. Beemer’s pond near Webster City, IA had the highest count in late November with 162 swans reported.  Other winter reports included:  46 at Atlantic Quarry, 36 at Nora Springs and 25 on a private pond at Bob and Mary Boock’s.  Nearby out of state numbers included 101 at Squaw Creek NWR in NE Missouri, ~ 5,500 swans in Minnesota and 274 swans counted at Magness Lake near Heber Springs, Arkansas.

Update on the Arkansas-Iowa swan migration experiment  

 Green collar 1P1 and mate were observed at Beemer’s Pond near Webster City, IA on Nov 27th 2010, then at Magness Lake, AR on Jan 14, 2011. 1P1 is a 2007 hatch year female from Lake Wapello State Park released at Holla Bend NWR (6 S Dardanelle, Arkansas) on 1/24/2008.

Additional swans left Beemer’s pond during the same time period when the winter snow and cold set it.  It is hoped that the departing swans were led south to Arkansas by an experienced traveler, 1P1, and were able to learn new migratory routes. 

Iowa collared swans reported out of state continue to trickle in from Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Experimental fall release at the Boock’s Pond

The experimental fall release of three cygnets at Bob Boock’s pond looks to be very promising.  Bob Boock’s pond has developed into a “staging area” for swans to gather in the early fall.  Three cygnets from the Chicago Botanical Center were released in early October and were “adopted” by a lone free flying Trumpeter.  We would assume, under the guidance of an older experienced adult, that the newly released cygnets would have a much greater survival rate.

In 2010, 42 wild nesting pairs were reported in Iowa.  An estimated 120 cygnets were hatched with ~84 surviving till flight stage

A big thanks, to everyone helping out with the Trumpeter Swan Program. I am making an attempt to do my best to fill in for Ron Andrews, which are some mighty big shoes to fill!,    Ron is doing great in retirement and continues to volunteer and assist with the Trumpeter Swan program and many other DNR related duties.  I am really fortunate to have his help and guidance. He sends his best.  Dave

TTSS Note: Dave Hoffman is a biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  Find out more about their Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program HERE.