Posts Tagged ‘Citizen Science’

Citizen Science: The Trumpeter Swan Society (TTSS) Joins with Partners to Launch the Great Rivers Trumpeter Watch

November 30, 2011

Lone Trumpeter Swan Landing, by Gail Miller, Arkansas

Trumpeter Watch is a Citizen Science program of The Trumpeter Swan Society (TTSS), currently embarking on its third winter season. The goal of this program is to involve members of TTSS, birders, and wildlife enthusiasts in accurately describing the winter distribution of Trumpeter Swans. One focus of Trumpeter Watch is the expanding Interior Population, where – after the success of restoration programs in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario and other northern states and provinces – swans are pioneering into new areas south of the 40th parallel.

To better understand the wintering needs of Trumpeters, TTSS requested the help of The Audubon Center at Riverlands, the St. Louis Audubon Society, and the Audubon Society of Missouri to partner this year in an effort to monitor the Great Rivers area.  If successful, the program will be the first of several regional efforts; each with its own geographic focus.  These partners bring local expertise and access to an extensive network of observers.  The Audubon Center at Riverlands, newly opened this October at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, is the perfect place for Outreach and Education. 

From 1990-2010, Missouri observers have recorded the highest number of Trumpeter Swans wintering in states south of the 40th parallel with sightings in 41 of 114 counties. Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (RMBS) is the single most important wintering site of the southern states with counts of 500+individuals in the past few years. Other public and private land areas of this confluence area of the Mississippiand Missouri Rivers are seeing increasing numbers of swans as well.

The goal of the Great Rivers Trumpeter Watch is to coordinate a Citizen Science effort to accurately count the number of swans using a variety of habitats, wild and cultivated, in the Great Rivers area. There will be bi-monthly counts at various locations where volunteers will report the number of swans and their activities. Counts will be conducted at the same time to achieve a more accurate total count.  Trained volunteers will be assigned to these areas and will complete a simple reporting form on-line after their observation period.  Seven proposed areas to be covered in this pilot project are: RMBS, Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (Swan & Gilbert Lake), Confluence State Park, Portage Des Sioux, Cora Island (Big Muddy), Fields around RMBS & Cora Island, and the Columbia Bottoms State Conservation Area.

Local project coordinators will host an orientation and training session for volunteer observers on Tuesday, December 6 at 9:00 am at theAudubonCenterat Riverlands. The first monitoring date will be Tuesday, December 13th at 8:00 am.  Additional dates will be chosen in the near future and January dates will coincide with a national count conducted for the Interior Trumpeter Swan Population by the Mississippi Flyway Swan Committee chaired by Joe Johnson of The Trumpeter Swan Society. 

 For additional information, please visit the web sites for The Trumpeter Swan Society and the Audubon Center at Riverlands.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) Looking for Reports of Trumpeter Swans

August 23, 2011
Trumpeter Swans by Jess Lee

(Text as published in the Arkansas Outdoors Weekly Newsletter, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission)

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is asking the public to help with a project by reporting trumpeter swans “summering” in Arkansas.

As part of the Mississippi Flyway Council’s Trumpeter Swan Migration Experiment, 49 trumpeter swans were released in Arkansas during the winters of 2008, 2009 and 2010. This experiment attempts to re-establish historic swan winter migrations south into Arkansas and other southern states from the swans breeding areas in northern states.

Karen Rowe, the AGFC’s Bird Conservation Coordinator, said she is pleased that the majority of the released swans have returned north during the breeding season and many of them have returned to winter in Arkansas. “We have found that a number of our released swans have stayed in Arkansas during the summer and we want to identify and track these birds. We are interested in gathering information on these “summering” swans in order to evaluate the progress of this experiment and track the habitat preferences of these birds,” she explained.

AGFC is asking the public to report sightings of summer swans and when possible, include the collar color and alpha-numeric code on the swan collars. Each of the translocated swans is fitted with a neck collar that bears a unique letter-number code. Rowe says binoculars or a spotting scope are often needed to read the neck collar identification code. “Reports that contain the collar letter and number are extremely valuable because they enable us to track a particular swan, not just across Arkansas, but throughout its journey up and down the Mississippi Flyway. We really appreciate the observers’ efforts to obtain these important but difficult to read neck collar I.Ds.”

Observers should note the exact location of the swan, using a GPS when possible, and report the location, the collar color and alpha numeric code to Rowe at or by using the link to the AGFC survey form at Observers without internet access can report their sightings by calling toll free 877-873-4651.

Before European settlement, the breeding range for trumpeter swans encompassed over half of North America, including the northern portion of Arkansas. Commercial harvest of the birds for feathers, skins and meat extirpated trumpeter swans from almost all of North America by the late 1800s.

Reintroduction efforts have restored trumpeter swans to portions of their former breeding range. Today, approximately 5,000 trumpeter swans live in the Midwest area of the United States. Trumpeter swans may form pair bonds as early as their second summer, but typically do not breed until they are 4-7 years old. Trumpeters migrate in family groups and prefer to feed on aquatic vegetation.

Trumpeter swans are the largest birds native to North America. Adult males measure 57 to 64 inches long and weigh around 25 pounds. Adult females range from 55 to 60 inches and weigh approximately 20 pounds. Their wingspans can approach 8 feet, and they fly with their extremely long necks outstretched.


January 5, 2011
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Inland Lakes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore by Jayne Schafer

Background: Historically, Trumpeter Swans were abundant throughout the Great Lakes region, even in the southern Michigan marshlands. However, following settlement, populations plummeted. Beginning in the 1800s, European settlers cleared the land, draining and filling important marsh habitat, killed swans for food, and market hunters took swans for their fine down and quills. Mute Swans, which are native to Europe and Asia, were brought to the United States from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s and competed with Trumpeters for dwindling aquatic habitats.  By 1933, only 66 Trumpeter Swans remained in the continental United States, in a remote part of the Rocky Mountains. Nearly 100 years passed before Trumpeter Swans were seen again in the Michigan wilds.

During the 1980s, Michigan began a swan reintroduction program. The Michigan commitment was the establishment of three self-sustaining populations of at least 200 swans by the year 2000. Early attempts at cross-fostering Trumpeter eggs with Mute Swans yielded low success rates and were abandoned. Rearing of cygnets for two years prior to releasing them into prime wetland habitat was then implemented. Eggs were collected from zoos and incubated to hatching. The Michigan restoration program has been successful: the 2000 count of Trumpeter Swans in Michigan exceeded 400 individuals. In late summer, 2010, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment participated in a continent-wide census to determine the population size and distribution of Trumpeter swans.  Results are pending.

Sleeping Bear Dunes (SLBE) Project:   Between 2006 and 2007, the park, in association with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, released 14 Trumpeter Swan cygnets as part of a reintroduction program.   Eight cygnets were banded and released in July of 2006. An additional 6 cygnets were banded and released the following summer.

  • Source cygnets came from the W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary located between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek and were supplied to the park by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.
  • Cygnets were within 3 or 4 weeks of flight and were released within six hours of capture.
  • The SLBE release site was selected based upon habitat quality and the low visitation to this area.  Ample food for growth and building reserves for fall flight was noted in the area. Other considerations included risk to illegal hunting/shooting, lead shot, and predation.


  • Following the release, a habitat survey was completed for all of the lakes within SLBE to evaluate the quality of Trumpeter Swan habitat.  The survey will be used to prioritize locations for future swan releases.
  • To date, follow-up monitoring has not been completed due to staffing constraints.  VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED for the spring of 2011.

Sleeping Bear Dunes biologist Sue Jennings reports that she observed a group of 7 adults swimming close to shore on Lake Michigan (near Esch Beach) in May, 2010, and other sightings during the summer were received. However, it has been a few years since park staff members have been able to actively monitor Trumpeter Swan nesting activities. Piping Plover work has been the top priority due to their endangered status, but Sue is hoping the park will be able to conduct nesting surveys for Trumpeter Swans as well as Common Loons next spring.

She is seeking VOLUNTEERS for the spring of 2011; and we hope to help her find people interested in assisting with a Trumpeter Swan nesting survey. She needs 1-2 individuals who would be available at least 1-2 days/week in early April through Mid-May. Proficiency with a canoe or kayak (intermediate level) is a requirement. Individuals familiar with the species (identification, nesting behavior) would be ideal, however, Sue would provide the necessary training (field identification and monitoring protocols) and field equipment (kayak/canoe, binoculars, etc.) to competent individuals.  

If you are interested, please contact:

Sue Jennings


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

9922 Front Street

Empire, MI 49630

231-326-5134 ext. 422

TTSS thanks Sue Jennings for her work with Trumpeters and for the background data for this Blog feature.


October 25, 2010
Trumpeter Pair by Jess Lee

Trumpeter Pair by Jess Lee

Trumpeter Watch is starting its second winter season and we ask observers to report Trumpeter Swan sightings, particularly in states south of the 40th parallel. Based on last year’s numbers in southern states, the winter 2010/2011 should be an exciting one – particularly if we can expand participation in sightings. We urge you to check your lake, wetland and grain field areas soon! For instance, both Kansas and Missouri have had a few October records along with a number of November sightings, and we’ve seen birds moving into Oklahoma mid-November, coming in good number by late December. We are interested in these arrival dates and in the pattern of use throughout the winter.

This year, we hope to make reporting easier for observers by partnering with “eBird,” the popular data reporting program of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, in conjunction with the Avian Knowledge Network. Their system is easy to learn, and once you’ve set up a free account with password, you can report sightings, browse through data, and take a look at your state or province for current and historical data. Your sightings will be part of a global database available to biologists, wildlife managers, teachers, and birders.

The “eBird” program has revolutionized the way that the birding community accesses and reports information since its start-up in 2002. It is designed to record basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales – just the type of information we are looking for as we monitor Trumpeter Swan populations over a large geographic area.

One of the best things about “eBird” is the immediate ability of the program to show data with dynamic maps and bar charts that detail relative abundance over time. Last winter, we kept in-house maps to chart the bird’s activities, but had no way to share them efficiently with you. In partnering with “eBird,” your sighting will appear as a dot on a Google Map, one that you can zoom in or out to look at an individual county, a state, or up to a five-state area.

Both recreational and professional observers contribute sightings to “eBird.” Each state has knowledgeable coordinators that review sightings, using a set of filters to check for data accuracy if a species is rare or of particular interest. TTSS will be able to work with these coordinators and to access comments included with the observation as to age, flock size, and other statistics.

Trumpeter Watch observers are welcome to continue to send in sightings by mail or by email as per our instructions on the website, attn. Peg Abbott, Outreach Coordinator, if you prefer. Peg will forward these records on to eBird as we complete data analysis.

We report Trumpeter Watch progress in our ENEWS and on Facebook, so if you have not yet signed up for these, log on to website and request the free ENEWS, and choose to be a FAN of TTSS on Facebook. If you do not have a computer and wish us to send copy by mail, please request that we do so.

ANNOUNCING: Trumpeter Watch

November 2, 2009

A Citizen-Science Project to Monitor Winter Trumpeter Swan Distribution
YOU CAN HELP!! Nov 1, 2009 – May 1, 2010

Swans Dancing

Photo by Arnie Frederickson

Improving winter security is a TTSS strategic goal for Trumpeters coast to coast. This year, we plan to closely monitor Interior Population Trumpeter Swans. You can help! Join our network of volunteer observers to document the changing winter distribution of Trumpeter Swans in the following states: NE, KS, OK, TX, eastern NM & CO, MO, AR, IL, IN, KY, TN, LA, MS, AL, VA, MD, and DE (or any other Interior or Atlantic State where Trumpeter Swans are observed).

The task of restoring Interior Population Trumpeters has been highly successful but is not yet done. As northern breeding flocks expand, increasing numbers of Trumpeters are pioneering towards historic wintering areas south of the 40th parallel. Trumpeters are showing up in places they have not frequented for over 100 years. Little is known about the numbers of southward migrants, the habitats they use, or the conditions that they are encountering.

TTSS has launched Trumpeter Watch, a citizen science program to help track Trumpeters on the move as they explore and use new winter habitat. TTSS is reaching out to members and active birders to submit winter observations of Trumpeter Swans and the habitats that they are using.  Trumpeter Watch will serve as an effective information system into which observers can report sightings.

As of Nov. 1st, we have observers registered in five states, and our first sightings reports have been sent in by David Rogles of Missouri. He spotted 10 Trumpeters arriving at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA). Dave reports that numerous swans in the past have stopped here during migration and last winter they had 360 or more swans over-wintering. Thanks to David for being our first registered participant in Trumpeter Watch to report!

Summarized data from the winter sightings will be given to managers and presented on our website to help document the current winter distribution of Trumpeters as they move southward and identify potential over-wintering sites. It is our hope that details of current use patterns and the habitats used will help provide a solid foundation for management efforts to rebuild more secure winter distributions.

WHY IS YOUR HELP NEEDED?♦ By 1900, Trumpeter Swans were extirpated from nesting and wintering areas in Central and Eastern North America. Lost with the swans was their historic knowledge of migration routes and southern wintering sites. For Trumpeters, migration is mostly a behavior learned from experienced adults. Therefore, reestablishing traditional historic patterns is difficult.

♦ In recent decades, wild nesting populations of Trumpeters have been successfully restored in several northerly states and Ontario. Most swans now winter near their northern breeding areas, but an unknown number are pioneering southward and beginning to establish use of more southerly wintering sites.

♦ Little is known regarding the numbers and groupings of southward migrants, the location and characteristics of sites they are pioneering, duration of use, or problems they may be encountering.

♦ By providing information through Trumpeter Watch, observers can help document the changing distribution of wintering Trumpeter Swans and help identify potential new southerly wintering sites.

We ask you to REGISTER for Trumpeter Watch
You can do so online at Observers report any first observation of a Trumpeter Swan at a new location to us as soon as possible, using our Trumpeter Watch OBSERVATION FORM.   Regular watchers submit a summary of observations to us by the 10th of each month throughout the study period. We want to document key habitat information as well as details about the swans.