The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding area on the Long Beach Peninsula provide a resting place and a refuge for many species during their migration northward to their nesting grounds. Migratory trumpeter swans are one of these species. Thanksgiving is the time of year when we can begin to look for swans. They gather in flocks come winter on their favored lakes and in agricultural fields. Some have already been reported on Loomis Lake and in Hines Marsh. These are two of their favorite places on the Peninsula, but they can also be seen elsewhere including Black Lake and Leadbetter Point.
Hines Marsh has always been one of their most favorite of their wintering places, except during the 1950s and 1960s when ditching and draining of the marsh resulted in the Trumpeters abandoning the area. They returned in 2003 after much work was done to restore the marsh by Washington State Parks and others, including the Trumpeter Swan Society.
The trumpeter swan is easily recognized because it is the largest of our swans at five feet in length. This is significantly larger than the tundra swan by about a foot. According to the Field Checklist of Birds for the refuge, they are a common sight here in winter. Adult trumpeters have a long straight bill with a red border on the lower mandible. Their forehead is long and slopes right down to the bill. Their necks are long and graceful and are often kinked at the base. Sibley (2104) suggests that back of the adult trumpeter is more evenly rounded than the back of the tundra swan. Juveniles can be a darkish or dingy-gray. Their bill always has a black base compared to the tundra juvenile, whose bill sports a pink base. In general, the bill base of the trumpeter is V shaped, but is U shaped on the tundra.
The trumpeter swan is a vegetarian, but will also eat small fish and fish eggs. Its favorite fare is eelgrass, sedges, pond weeds, duckweed, algae and rushes. Grains and seeds such as corn and barley are among their faves as well. In winter, trumpeters often concentrate more on eating plants found on land. Like ducks, they dabble with their tails in the air when eating aquatic plants.
Swans are huge, all white and swimmers. They are larger and longer necked than geese. It is time to watch for these magnificent birds while they are taking advantage of the food and safety offered by the refuge and surrounding area. Look for them!
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the LB Peninsula Visitors Center.