It all started with a photograph taken by Barbara Gour and sent to me by Bill Adams of Beckett’s Landing. The caption to the photo was: “On our bay on the Rideau this morning, four trumpeting swans visited for several hours. They are rare in eastern Ontario. They are the largest North American bird with wing span up to 10 feet!”
On the surface, a nice story promising Spring. But, like swans swimming, there was a lot more going on under that surface. Local expert on everything natural, Dr. Fred Schueler, pointed out that Trumpeter Swans are not as rare as they used to be, all thanks to the work of one man: Harry Lumsden.
This got me thinking. Harry Lumsden? Bringing back swans from the brink of extinction? Yes, indeed. According to the Trumpeter Swan Coalition website, the last Trumpeter in the province was shot by a hunter in Long Point, Ontario, in 1886. By 1935, only 69 Trumpeters were counted in all of North America.
Enter Harry Lumsden, a retired Ministry of Natural Resources biologist. In 1982, Harry made it his mission to bring the Trumpeters back to Ontario. The trumpeter Swan Coalition records that Harry “was able to get eggs from northern Alberta and Alaska and convince some Ontario landowners to help raise the resulting young cygnets. Over time, enough were raised that they could be released into the wild.”
Slowly over many years, these birds began to spread out and reestablish their territory. Today, after 35+ years of effort to bring back the Trumpeters, their population in Ontario numbers about 1,000 birds. There are several reasons why their population remains low. Many Trumpeters have been lost due to lead poisoning that they get from accidentally ingesting lead shot and fishing lures while feeding in marshes. Others are lost to collisions with powerlines and occasionally some are shot by hunters, although it is illegal to do so. Habitat loss, especially of wintering areas, is also greatly impacting their restoration.
So, although these wonderful creatures are once again in danger from the behaviour of humans, their very presence on the Rideau River this month is a sign of hope, of Spring returning in spite of recent snow, and a potent symbol of our ability to reverse mistakes and calamities.
Something worth celebrating as we face a daunting future.