"Determined" is the word that describes me when I'm pursuing something. When a resident of Big Portage Lake asked me if I would track down the trumpeter swan who disappeared from our lake, I said I'd do my best.
So, to pick up the story from last week, in the fall of 2002 a solitary cygnet was stranded on the outlet of Big Portage Lake. I monitored the bird throughout the winter and watched it summer on our lake. It kept company with a mallard and a domestic duck. The trio seldom were separated.
One October day the swan was gone. Initial attempts to learn the fate or whereabouts of the swan were unsuccessful. Thoughts of the bird were put on the back burner. A couple of weeks ago I picked up the case again.
I called Steve Kittelson, DNR nongame wildlife specialist in charge of Minnesota's trumpeter swan monitoring. He followed up my inquiry by contacting Orphaned and Injured Wildlife, a rehabilitation clinic in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Their records showed that the swan was brought in by plane from Bemidji to Minneapolis on Oct. 9, 2003. According to the medical information sheet, the swan had a chronically amputated right wing at the wrist. It didn't have lead poisoning or any other problems, but its weight was down.
When I called Linda Hinshaw, wildlife rehabilitator at Spirit Lake, she readily recalled the swan and said it has been dubbed the "Bemidji bird." She said it had been shot in the shoulder with a .22 caliber rifle. Infection from the injury had invaded the bone. It was treated with an antibiotic but nothing could repair the structural damage. The bird would never fly again.
On January 28, after several weeks of physical rehabilitation, the swan was transferred to the custody of the Iowa DNR in Mason City, where it was placed in a captive-breeding program. The rehabilitator referred me to Dave Hoffman, an Iowa DNR wildlife technician, who would be able to give me an update on the "Bemidji bird."
Dave was most helpful and told me the young female, now known as "Minnesota shot swan #110," was a member of the Iowa Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program and currently residing at a private residence in Clear Lake, Iowa. I asked if it would be possible for me to see the swan. Dave said it wouldn't be a problem and shared the landowner's name with me. The next afternoon we made a family outing to Clear Lake.
We found the landowner and explained our intent. She said her family donated the use of a three-acre, fenced site of upland and pond and that the DNR maintained the birds. We surveyed the birds from a distance. In addition to the swans, there were several Canada geese and a number of mallards. Eventually we found our girl. As Linda had said, when the swan was out of water her wing had a severe droop.
The sun was setting and I wanted to photograph the bird before the light faded. Easier said than done. Sixteen trumpeters filled the spacious enclosure and though they're considered captives, like most birds in the wild they clearly were skittish.
It didn't matter where I positioned myself or how careful I approached; the contingent would split and scatter. Still, I chuckled and was pleased. I had seen the Big Portage swan and had its image safely stored in my memory. A photo wasn't necessary.
What does the future hold for our swan? If she establishes a meaningful relationship with a fellow captive male, the pair will be moved to a more private place. They might have a brood of cygnets. Who knows, maybe the cygnets will find their way to Big Portage Lake?
All we can hope for is that our swan's kin and kind won't be shot by a cad and will forever fly free.
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