Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Hunt for the Trumpeter Swans.....Continued!

We have been having a cold spell with lows at night down in the teens (brrrrrrr) and only into the low 30's during the day.  But with the cold has come sunshine and big bright blue skies.  How can I resist a brisk walk in search of the swans.  This day, the morning begins with fog, with the promise of blue skies later in the day.

Since I now know the location of several ponds that the swans frequent I can go directly to those spots and save my hiking energy for getting to those spots.  The most likely pond is a three mile easy round trip hike so I can make that fairly easily if I don't get side tracked along the way.  (Not sure if that is possible)

At the first main parking lot is a trail that leads to the headquarters pond which is currently refilling with winter rains since the repairs have been made on the pond.  A mere 100 feet from the main parking lot is a viewing station that has spotting scopes that view the ponds and back to Cheever Lake.   Cheever Lake is the bottom lake shown on the Map below.

Cheever Lake is my destination today.

The last time I was here, after my hike of over 5 miles as I returned to this spot I could hear the calling of the swans, the flapping of wings and  when I looked into the scopes and I could see that swans had returned to Cheever Lake.  Unfortunately, it was nearing dark and my hip would no longer allow me to take any further side trips.   I could hear there trumpets taunting me in the distance.

That was then.
Today is another day.
So I set out from the parking lot just before the Park Headquarters.  There is another well marked trail along Pine Lakes on a looped trail.

This first section of the trail is a well marked trail that is paved most of the way.  Additional work on the trail this fall as left a small section packed gravel and final paving will be done next spring.  It is an easy hike for most people who can handle the distance and will once again be wheelchair accessible after the repairs are finished next year.

This section of the trail sees a lot of foot traffic and as a result, there is often not a lot of water foul to be found.  People come and the birds take off.

Along the way, benches  not only allow people a place to rest but also a place to be still and wait for returning birds to land on the ponds.

The one problem I encountered here, was other noisy humans arriving; talking loudly and scaring off the water foul as I patiently waited for the birds to return.  The second half of the hike to Cheever Lake is less marked and utilized by far fewer humans to spoil my patient waiting for the swans to return.

Even though I have been along the trail before, each time I return I see new things that I had not noticed on previous trips.  Here is a fallen tree, that has become home to new birds, completing the natural circle of life.

The end of one cycle (the fallen tree),

                            becomes the home of the continuing life cycle.

A nest in the log snag continues the cycle of life

Evidence of wildlife I haven't seen is every where.

Coyote scat is frequently found on the paved trail around the pond.
Is this accidental or coyote attempting to mark their territory as a protest to the advancement of human presence.
(Move on ahead of the sight of scat is offense to you.)

Sorry for the poopy quality of the picture!

 Is this accidental or coyote attempting to mark their territory as a protest to the advancement of human presence.

It is generally easy to tell the difference between canine scat and coyote scat as the more varied diet of coyote is visible.  

On the far side of the pond the path turns back to circle back towards the parking lot.  Down near the pond is a camo hut. 


 Upon inspection it is a bird blind to watch unnoticed for wildlife near the waters edge.  Unfortunately, this is probably only effective on weekdays when there are fewer visitors to the refuge.

 Chairs provide a resting place for the waiting hikers.

Near the camo hut is a fork in the path.  It clearly looks likes the beginning of the service road but it also begins the unmarked path that proceeds to Cheever Lake.  Without a map you would not realize there is a path/roadway to Cheever Lake.  

A bit farther there is a fork in the road.  The sign was laying on the ground, evidence of some kind of accident... with unearthed rocks and a large hole.   I replace the sign to the hole and piled rocks into the hole for this picture.

The fork to the left (unseen in the picture curve on to another little lake).   But I take the fork to the right.  It is unnamed on the map, but I have nicknamed it Elk Bluff as evidenced by the frequent presence of elk or should I say elk scat.   Clearly they like it here and this is probably a feeding ground for them.  

I quickly get bored with following the trail/road and move out into the meadow to the bluff overlook  find all kinds of interesting sights.

Elk ..... ahhhhmmmmm .... droppings


                                                 'Scat on the Run'

The Turnbull Wildlife Refuge is in an area where volcanic activity was prevalent.  Evidence of lava flows is visible  both in basalt cliffs and flows showing through the grasses.

The bluff provides overlooks to the lakes and ponds that I have been hiking around.  The fog has been burning off and I am now able to get a better view of the lakes and ponds.

I walk along the bluff and enjoy the change in scenery. 

Off in the distance ,I hear the call of the trumpeter swans.....  Excitedly, I realize  how much they do sound like toy trumpets.

Listen to the cal of the trumpeter swans.

Trumpeter Swans at Harrison Park - YouTube  


Doesn't it sound like a toy trumpet?

I move back from the edge of the cliff so that I don't frighten the swans as I am approaching.  I can hear that there are many swans and I hope to see them without them flying off before I can observe them and take pictures.  Carefully I move along the edge of the bluff crouching low among the trees for cover.

Then I see them !!!

They are off in the distance, but I sit down on the cold ground so that I can watch them.

The greyer colored foul are young swans, probably this years babies.

I inch ever more close  to  the swans.  As I move closer they move away.  So I go back to sitting.  They are amazing!!

They stay together in small groups unwilling to leave their family cluster.

In total, I count 25 swans.  While they allow ducks to swims within their mist, I have seen no Canadian Geese that are found frequently in the northwest area in huge flocks.
 Swans are very territorial and will become very aggressive when geese are present.

Then in a moment.... they are in flight..... I am stunned and watch in amazement as they fly in formations until they are gone. 

Then I realize that I have been so busy watching them.... I forgot to take pictures of them in flight.

I feel exhilarated to have seen them, yet saddened that they are gone so quickly.  It was wonderful to be but a fly on their wall and experience them in their environment. It is clear to me they are very intentional in staying at faraway ponds and lakes and have not become accustomed to contact with humans. 

I travel along the bluff while returning back to the main trail...

One last treat is the sighting of a beaver pond.

No sign of the 'homeowner' and with the light beginning to wain I can't wait for his return.

My hip is beginning to protest.  Walking on uneven ground has taken it's toll today,  but I am a happy camper!!  I found my swans and enjoyed a great hike in the nature that I love....

What's not to love ! ? !

Monday, November 18, 2013

Day Trippin...

I woke up to a bright blue sky begging me to get to going.
Alas it is Sunday and Hailey is playing in the band for Sunday morning service, so that means we will be getting a later start than I would like.

I put on some eggs to boil for lunch sandwiches (lunches on the go are always challenging with a vegetarian in our ranks) and then we are off.   A late start....the sun is now hidden behind winter clouds, but we are off for an adventure just the same.

Of course, I needed to get gas so we headed of to Idaho to fill up.

I think I am going to throw a party.

Price today..... $2.99.  I can't remember the last time it was under $3.00 a gallon.  Since I drive a full size truck now, I pay attention to these things.

One of the challenges for Day Trippin during the winter months are the repeat of familiar territory to get to new and interesting destinations.  Though I love the journey, the explorer in me is always seeking the new and different.

Today's journey starts in  Coeur d' Alene, Idaho and follows along Highway 95, a path I have travel before.  It is not a fast road with many bends and curves.  At places it has turn off to travel along the lake.  And of course we must check for wildlife along the lake.  

We were able to see a shy blue heron.  He would not cooperate for pictures however.  I slowed down.... he flew off.  Guess he hates lookie loos.

Except for a few flocks of ducks it was pretty quiet.... No pelicans today, guess they have all moved on.

I do enjoy watching the change of seasons and how it plays out in the landscape.

  Last time I was here, it was alive with fall colors.  Fall has faded except for a few lone leaves and snow is present (yes the Evil White Stuff)

We made a stop along a railroad that collapsed in 2006.  A crane was traveling on a working trail car across the expanse and when the trestle callapsed and crane fell into the Lake Benewah.

 The section in the middle (shown above)  where the color changes from dark to light is the section that collapsed and was later repaired.

picture from the internet

 Fortunately the water was shallow and the workman were unhurt

It took several months for repairs, but it looks as good as new now.
   But I remember.

Every where you turn is another story.

Without leaves to provide cover, the entrance to the St Joe River is visible.

 If you have a boat or kayak you are able to travel far up the St Joe River.

The beginning of the river follows a channel near the end of two lakes Round Lake and Lake Chatcolet until it enters the wilds of the St Joe Forest.

We travel away from the lakes and byways and return to farm land deep in the Palouse farming valleys of Washington State.  One of the problems of day trippin this time of year is the shortening day... the shortened time of light for pictures and just plain seeing.

Though we are traveling in hilly farm land dotted with trees and little farms we are treated with glimps of sunset.

Do you see the horse being chased by fire?

And so are we..... chased by the setting sun into the darkness and home.


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.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Turnbull Wildlife Refuge

The people of Eastern Washington have experienced a long love affair with Trumpeter Swans.  So when sightings are reported at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, the people will come.
And so did we.

Each season provides a distinctly different experience.   Autumn is a time of strong contrasts of color, temperatures and textures.
Even now as leaves have already begun to fall, the colors vary in subtle hues awaiting the crisp days of winter that are on the horizon.

This day we will go in search of the Trumpeter Swans that call this refuge home.

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge  was established in 1937 by an Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Refuge is located in an area of Eastern Washington on the Eastern edge of the Columbia River Basin, known as the Channeled Scablands.  This vast and varied terrain supports an unusal pattern of wetlands, rock, ponderosa pine and aspen forests, and grassland.  The refuge includes deep permanent sloughs, semi-permanent potholes, and seasonal wetlands.  The variation of landscape provides important habitat for migrating and breeding waterfowl and other water birds and animals.

 Lanky aspens stand guard providing a stark silhouette in the fall landscape framing the lake.


The quiet bogs and still waters provide food for the waterfoul. 
The only sounds are the ducks quacking and occasionally Canadian Geese flying overhead. 

 A lone pine provides a stark silhouette in the afternoon sky

When a tree falls in our human world, we clean it up and remove the debris.  In the animal and bird world, the fallen tree provides a continuation of the habitat in a new form as a home to insects and birds.

There are reflections everywhere we look.


We hiked several trails.... More remain for other days

Early settlers found this rich and fertile ground for farming .  They dug trenches to run the water out of the ponds and tilled the soil.  Eventually the nutrients ran off the soil leaving little yields and the farmers abandoned the land leaving it damaged for the widlife that had lived here for thousands of years.

In the years since the land has become a National Refuge, work has been done to  begin restoring the refuge
and return the area to again provide a natural habitat for waterfoul and wildlife without human  encroachment.

This year they rebuilt a failed earthen damn that will allow the area behind this barrier to refill with water. 

 We searched and searched but found no Trumpeter swans. 
Our challenge and task remains before us.

But for today it was beginning to look like the only wildlife we would find......

 was Hailey.

But it had been a good day and we started home

And then we saw......

a car on the side of the road with a camera pointing out the window at a meadow.

Or course we pulled over to see what there was to see.

We were close enough to hear the elk bugling to one another.

The herd of approximately 16 elk was at the limit of my zoom lense so the quality is not what I would have liked but we stayed and watched them grazing in the evening light, wild and free.   

The hoot of owl bids us farewell.

A good day indeed.