Thursday, November 14, 2013

Solo - A Local Trumpeter Swan Song

I'm on the hunt... For Trumpeter Swans.  After a long three day weekend, I'm  back out to the Turnbull National Reserve today. The weather folks claimed today would be partly sunny (they lied), but it was a bit chilly with a high of 46 and a good day for some quality alone time.   I arrived at the refuge at 8:00 AM to a crisp foggy morning.

 I decided on a quick trip around the reserve to check out all the ponds and little lakes for signs of the swans.  First mistake... I seem to have difficulty making a quick trip around the refuge.

As I drove around the refuge  I stopped and hiked around the waterways in search of the elusive swans.  Putting me on a trail is a little like putting a race horse in the starting gate to await the starting gun.  Once I get started, a little hike on a little trail expands till I've seen it all.


Nope, Nadda, not a swan to be seen.

Trumpeter swans have not always lived year round at this refuge.  They made pit stops here and often would raise little families but they moved on.  That all seemed to changed with Solo.  Solo became an ambassador for the refuge and a swan that Spokane fell in love with. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the 1800's and early 1900's they were nearly hunted into extinction.  There feathers were used for quills and their skin was used for cosmetic powder puffs.

In an effort to increase the declining populations, wildlife experts began bringing groups of  cygnets to the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge in the late 60's.  It is possible that Solo was among those cygnets.

Cygnets raised in captivity or who were moved from their native habitat often abandon there migratory rituals.

In his younger years he did not stand out among the flock.  Eventually this male swan developed patterns of returning to the ponds near the headquarters the very day that the ponds thawed indicating he stayed close by and checked on the ponds rather than migrating.   He was first banded in 1983 while he and his mate guarded a new family.

sigh, only ducks here
During the trumpeter heydays at Turnbull, swan pairs successfully mated 56 times from 1967-1987, producing 122 cygnets. Of those, 83 survived to flight age with Solo fathering up to a third of the cygnets.

After seven years of reintroduction efforts, trumpeters had eight nests on Turnbull Refuge in 1970 and all of the cygnets survived. The refuge had installed a cyclone fence with barbed wire across the top to protect the flock.  The special treatment for swans at the refuge ended in 1976.Prior to 1976,  the display pond was aerated and provide supplemental feed was provided. A decision was made to stop that and go to a more natural situation, forcing the birds to migrate.
That proved a disaster for the swans. The birds dispersed and death rates increased significantly. Adult birds got lost and pairs broke up and few birds returned to the refuge.”

In 1988 Solo's mate mate was killed  by predators (assumed to be a coyote)  Swans mate for life, but after the loss of a partner, they’ll eventually look for a new one.  Solo continued to come back alone, hence he was given the name Solo.
While he still attracted an occasional mate, biologists speculated he could no longer reproduce.
But the elderly swan proved them wrong in 2009, when he finally paired with a mate and sired the first clutch of trumpeter cygnets in 22 years, 4 cygnets. He and his mate returned again 2010 producing five cygnets.

In 2011 on January 26 2011, one adult (thought to be Solo's mate and four of the cygnets returned to the refuge after the thaw.  Solo and one of the cygnets were thought to have died.  Banding records confirm Solo was at least 35 but his exact age is not known.


I do not have pictures that I have taken of Solo, but I was able to find one on the internet taken by a local reporter, Rich Landers from the Spokesman-Review, as Solo gained a loyal following and a great deal of publicity.  His arrivals were announced frequently in local newspaper stories. Much of the information about Solo was gained from articles by Rich Landers. Without permission I am unable to show the picture here but have provided a link to the original picture.


In an update to Solo's story, an article was published this summer that contains one of my favorite pictures of all time of  trumpeter swans.  It seems to be a fitting ending to Solo's story.

Stay tuned,  I will continue my search for the swans right after I recover from my marathon seven hour hike today.  I am nothing if not determined.


  1. Great story - hope you come across some swans because I want to see more of your great wildlife photos.

  2. I just realized I had missed your last post. I love the pictures from then and this post. To bad you haven't found your Swans yet. Good luck.

  3. OMG - Seven hour hike?? Very interesting history - I'm going to check out the links now to see the photos of Solo and the "update" photo. :)

    1. Please remember how gimpy I am.... There was some driving, picture taking, some sitting involved and some very slow walking after my hip started protesting. But I was there for 7 hours total. Surprisingly... I was a little sore the next day but not bad at all!