by John Day
Dear Members and Friends of Skagit Audubon Society,
While I don’t necessarily look forward to the soggy, gray days we so often have here in the Skagit Valley at this time of year, there are some aspects of fall that always fill me with wonder, namely the return of thousands of Trumpeter Swans, Tundra Swans, and Snow Geese, as well as a multitude of other waterfowl. My first experience of this was in 1973, when I was visiting the area from my home in Olympia and learned that people were reporting a flock of Trumpeters on Francis Road near Clear Lake. I managed to find my way there and was amazed to see a group of, I think, 50 or so birds.
Along with the sight of these spectacular birds themselves, I felt as if I was witnessing a miracle. I had lived in Wyoming from the late 50’s through the beginning of the 70’s, and during that time, my family spent a month camping in Grand Teton National Park almost every summer. On one of our first visits to the park, we stopped at a pullout on the highway a little way north of the town of Jackson where several cars were already parked. The attraction turned out to be a pair of Trumpeter Swans nesting in a wetland adjacent to the pullout. An interpretive sign at the pullout informed us that the pair was part of a flock of perhaps a couple of dozen birds, the only remaining population of Trumpeters breeding in the continental US after they had been nearly extirpated by market hunting.
I learned just recently that in 1957, only a couple of years before my family and I saw the pair of swans in Jackson Hole, a handful of Trumpeters, the first to be seen in the Skagit for many decades, showed up at Barney Lake east of Mount Vernon. Now fast forward 64 years to 2021, when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported a total of 10,730 wintering swans in Skagit County, at least two thirds of which were Trumpeters and the rest Tundras. One person to whom we owe a great deal of thanks for this remarkable recovery is Martha Jordan of the Northwest Swan Conservation Association (visit https://nwswans.org/) who we were privileged to have as our speaker at our November meeting.
So, I encourage everyone, whether you live nearby or elsewhere, to get out and experience this annual miracle. While you’re at it, please be mindful of the ethics of birding in rural Skagit County, most of which is privately owned farmland. Be Bird Wise, a coalition of organizations, agencies, businesses, and local landowners including Skagit Audubon (ably represented by Jeff Osmundson), has created a Code of Conduct for people wishing to view swans, Snow Geese, and other wintering birds in and around the Skagit Valley. Please visit their website at www.bebirdwise.org for more information.