A few days prior to his fatal accident, in September 2002, I invited my husband Gordon to join our daughter and I on a trip to a local marsh, where two very rare, wild Trumpeter Swans, that are part of a reintroduction program, were residing. I told Gordon that he might not have another opportunity to see the swans that year, because they would soon be leaving for the winter. As it turned out, these were the last wild creatures Gordon would ever see... and Gordon left long before the swans did.
Throughout the autumn months, I made regular pilgrimages to the local marsh, to wander the trails, gaze at the water, sit with the swans, and mourn the loss of my husband. In time, the swans became quite used to my visits and would often lay down on the grass, and survey the marsh, preen or sleep, just a few feet away from me, while I wept and talked aloud to my dearly departed Gordon. My feathered friends, with wing tags #605 and #609, stayed at the local marsh almost until ice-up. Then they migrated to parts unknown, for the winter.
In January 2003, I decided to give something back to the Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program, by "adopting" swans #605 and #609, though the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre, in Midland, Ontario... the organization responsible for tracking the swans' movements and caring for them, should they become ill or injured. I named the male of the pair, "Sir Gordon" and the female, "Nessie" (after the Loch Ness Monster, from Gordon's homeland of Scotland).
There were no reported sightings of Sir Gordon and Nessie during the winter of 2002-3, but the pair returned to the marsh near our home, safe and sound, on Easter weekend 2003. My daughter and I resumed regular visits with Sir Gordon and Nessie, throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2003. In 2003, I wrote to Harry Lumsden, Provincial Coordinator of the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program, to tell him how much my association with #605 and #609 had helped me through a very difficult time. He responded with the following letter, in which he shared the background of these two birds:
(Click image to enlarge)
#605 and #609 left our local marsh for the winter, on November 14th, 2003... my daughter's third birthday. During the winter of 2003-4, the pair was seen in the Washago area, once, in January, but otherwise their whereabouts were not known. They returned to marsh near our home on March 31, 2004.
Within a few weeks of the pair's spring 2004 return, they did the unexpected. They split up and began wandering. Eventually, Sir Gordon returned to the local marsh with a new mate: an untagged, unbanded wild swan now known as "Thistle." Unfortunately, Sir Gordon and Thistle settled in too late in the season to nest. Sir Gordon and Thistle left the local marsh in the fall of 2004. Their whereabouts have not been reported since. They did not return to the local marsh in 2005, 2006 or 2007.
Nessie was spotted on a pond at a local golf course in July 2004 and on Bass Lake in August. Her whereabouts were not reported again during 2004. In mid-February 2005, she landed in at Wye Marsh for four days, (this was the first time she was sighted there), and then she flew off to parts unknown for the remainder of the winter. In the spring of 2005, Nessie and female swan* #627 took up residence, together, on the Trent Severn waterway.
* The Swan Program Coordinator at Wye Marsh theorized that Nessie might have been sexed incorrectly... that "she" might actually be a "he." This theory would explain why Nessie and Sir Gordon parted ways at the age of sexual maturity (four years old) and why Nessie started keeping company with a female swan.
On May 31st, Nessie made her first visit in a year to the local marsh that she shared with Sir Gordon in 2002 and 2003. She was accompanied by her new companion, whom we nicknamed "Heather." Their visit was fleeting. By the next day they were gone. They returned a week later, on June 6, 2005, and then kept paying brief visits to the marsh throughout the remainder of the 2005 season. Throughout the winter of 2005-6, Heather and Nessie wandered north Simcoe. In the Spring, they returned to the local marsh and, on April 12, 2006, were observed engaged in what appeared to be nest-building activities, within view of the parking area. Within a few days, they abandoned this project. Over the next month, Heather and Nessie were seen, frequently, at the local marsh. Then, in early May, Heather dropped out of sight and Nessie became a much less frequent visitor to the part of the local marsh that is visible from the parking area.
On June 12, 2006, Margaret visited the local marsh, with the intention of feeding corn to Nessie if s/he was there. She spotted two adult swans way out in the middle of the marsh. Margaret called Nessie's name and, as per usual, s/he started to swim toward the shore area where Margaret was standing. All of a sudden, Margaret saw something unexpected. She couldn't believe her eyes... following closely behind Nessie were five little bundles of gray/white fluff!! Heather took up the rear. Nessie and Heather brought their little guys right to where Margaret was standing, and lingered along the shoreline while Margaret shot numerous photos, letting her get the digital camera within two feet of the cygnets! Nessie and Heather weren't even hungry... they barely picked at the corn Margaret offered them. She thinks they actually brought their babies to the shore just to show them to her! What an amazing experience!! After about 20 minutes, the new family left and paddled back to the safety of the mid-marsh area. So, the Swan Program Co-ordinator was right! Nessie is male... and now a first-time father!! For the next five days, Nessie brought his family to visit with Margaret. Each time, they gave her unbelievable access to the cygnets. She was able to take some outstanding photographs.
Margaret is very sad to report that, on the night of June 17, 2006, four of the five young cygnets disappeared from the local marsh. The following morning, the fifth vanished. Nessie and Heather were despondent! They searched the marsh all the following day, calling in vain for their little ones. I contacted The Wye Marsh, to report the loss. They, in turn, contacted Harry Lumsden, the Provincial Coordinator of the Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program. It was his opinion that the inexperienced, first-time parents probably chose an inappropriate sleeping area for the night and that, as a result, the cygnets were most likely "predated" by snapping turtles or some other such predator. Within a few days, Nessie and Heather seemed to recover somewhat, from their loss. Hopefully, they will try again next year.
Margaret made two donations to Wye Marsh, in memory of the cygnets: a financial contribution and 110 digital photographs of the cygnets and their parents, taken over the six day period she had the privilege of knowing them. Hopefully, Wye Marsh can use some of these photographs to promote the Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program, thereby bringing something good out of a very tragic event.
During August and September 2006, human activity around the local marsh was intense. The county spent several weeks widening and resurfacing the gravel road that runs along its eastern boundary; the owners of the marsh brought in men and equipment to extend the hiking trail system surrounding the marsh. During this period of construction there were no Trumpeter Swans sightings in the local marsh.
During the Winter of 2007, I adopted a Trumpeter Swan that sustained a broken wing when he was hit by a snowmobile, in the Keswick area. He sustained damage to the growth plate on his right wing. As a result, he is now unable to fly and will live out the rest of his days as a permanent resident at the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre. I named the injured swan "Roscoe," in honour my friend Jane's beloved dog (who was a victim of abuse prior to his adoption by Jane). This is Roscoe:
Roscoe (foreground) in the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre
rehab. hospital with his friend J.J., who was
recovering from surgery to set a broken wing.
J.J. was deliberately injured by humans.
Her story, and fund-raising efforts to pay for her surgery
(by local conservationists Jennifer and Jeff Howard)
made the news. This is a still from a television newscast
showing J.J. and Roscoe's release into the rehab. centre
pond, at Wye Marsh.
Roscoe (left) and J.J. (right). Sadly, J.J. died
of a lung infection (a post-surgical complication)
shortly after this photograph was taken.
In the Spring of 2007, Nessie and Heather returned to the local marsh and began nesting, once again. On June 14, Nessie and Heather brought four little bundles of gray fluff to meet Margaret. Unfortunately, one cygnet perished within that first week, but the other three thrived.
Margaret and Gordon's daughter, Emily, and Nessie have known each other since they were both two. In 2007, at age seven, they exhibited a bond and level of mutual trust that was simply remarkable to see. Here are some photos of Emily, Nessie, and Nessie's 2007 family:
By September, the trio of cygnets were the same size as their mother (who is a bit smaller than Nessie) and all three were airborne by early-October. Friends at Operation Migration had adopted a cygnet, for Emily, in appreciation of all the work Margaret and Emily had done for their organization over the past year, and Margaret adopted the other two. The cygnets are named after the constellations Cygnus, Andromeda and Draco.
In mid-October the family began leaving the local marsh for extended periods of time. Cygnus, however, kept returning on his own. By mid-November, Margaret began to discuss this issue with Wye Marsh. Cygnus seemed quite capable of taking care of himself when the water was open and food was plentiful, but without guidance from his parents he wouldn't know where to go or what to do to survive the winter. When ice-up arrived at the local marsh and Cygnus was still there, Wye Marsh staff brought Margaret an animal crate, and asked her to try and apprehend young-Cygnus and bring him to Wye Marsh for the winter. Over the next nine days, Margaret monitored the local marsh twice daily, but ice continued to form on the marsh and Cygnus didn't return.
Eventually, a cygnet was captured by a local farmer in one of his fields. The farmer transported the bird to Wye Marsh, where it was examined to determine gender (male), tagged (#156) and released into the rehab. centre pond that is kept open with a bubbler and used as a feeding station all winter. Wye Marsh notified Margaret that a cygnet, who might be the missing "Cygnus," had arrived at their facility. Margaret and Emily visited Wye and positively identified "Cygnus" via the funny pink pigment spots on his feet (a relatively rare phenomenon that even his siblings didn't possess) and by the fact that he swam to them whenever they called his name or his Dad's name. This twist of fate brought one of Margaret and Emily's free-flying "family members" into contact with their injured trumpeter "family member." Throughout the winter of 2008, Cygnus had none other than "his Uncle Roscoe" to make him feel welcome at Wye Marsh!
Roscoe (left) and Cygnus (right), together at Wye Marsh, in January 2008:
On April 7, 2008, Nessie (#609) and Heather ( #627) returned to our local marsh, without any of their 2007 cygnets. They looked healthy and content and seemed happy to see us.
Heather began sitting on the pair's 2008 nest on May 3rd.
"Heather," Day 31 on the nest
On Saturday June 7th ("Day 35"), we went to check on Nessie and Heather. We found Nessie near the parking area at our local marsh with three cygnets that were still sporting their egg teeth. Heather remained on the nest.
"Nessie" with the first three cygnets
On Sunday, June 8th, 2008 ("Day 36") Heather and Nessie officially completed their nesting activities. When we visited the marsh we found the pair on the lawn, near the parking area, with six cygnets. Heather, looked much heartier than last year, when she came off the nest looking noticeably thinner than when she began incubating her eggs. These pictures were taken on June 8th and 9th:
Family portrait: "Waiting for one..."
"Nessie" patrols the marsh
"Heather" watches over the napping cygnets
On June 10 the weather turned cool and rainy. When I arrived at the marsh, the cygnets were foraging on the lawn, with both parents overseeing their activities. Then it started to rain and the cygnets responded by trying to climb on top of their Mom (who was laying down). Eventually, Heather extended her right wing a bit and five cygnets piled into the makeshift cave formed by their Mom's wing like an old-time football team. The sixth cygnet decided to lay down on Mom's left side, up against her chest. In the picture, you can see the rear end of one cygnet and the heads of two others peeking out from under Heather's right wing.
Close-up view from the above photo
By six weeks of age (July 19th) the cygnets were almost the size of Canada Geese!
At eleven weeks old (August 24th) the cygnets were almost as tall as their Mom (white bird on rear left).
Seven year old Emily feeds the family some corn
During the first week of October (at four months of age) all six cygnets fledged successfully. The family then began leaving the local marsh for several days at a time. These are pictures taken on October 14th, when the family returned after a six-day absence:
At four months, all six cygnets are
bigger than their Mom (pictured on far left)!
These photos were taken on October 19th, when the family returned to the local marsh, following another multi-day absence:
A napping cygnet rests his head on his back
Another cygnet mugs for the camera,
while his Mom looks on.
In 2009, Heather and Nessie returned to the local marsh and successfully raised four cygnets. In October, Julie Kee and Kyna Initini, of the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program, retagged Nessie with yellow wing tag # "A57", banded him on his right leg, and tagged and banded two of the cygnets: a male with tag # "A54" and a female with tag # "A56". They were unable to apprehend Heather and the other two cygnets for tagging.
In the Spring of 2010, Heather returned to the local marsh with what appeared to be two of last year's cygnets. They soon departed and left Heather on her own. Heather remained on her own at the local marsh throughout the summer months. There were no sightings of Nessie this calendar year. :-(
In early Spring of 2011, Harry Lumsden caught up with Heather and an unbanded, untagged bird in Washago, Ontario. He was able to capture Heather and re-tag her. Her new wing tag number is "L28." Shortly thereafter, Heather and her new companion returned to our local marsh. They appeared to be engaged in nesting activities early on, but no cygnets resulted. They remained at Langman until the fall.
Also in 2011, our Wye Marsh "permanent resident" adoptee, Roscoe, surprised everyone by flying out of the rehabilitation centre pond with some of his friends. Apparently, the growth plate injury he sustained in his collision with a snowmobile four years ago healed enough to allow him to grow normal wing tip feathers again. We are delighted that Roscoe is now a free bird and wish him all the best in his return to the wild!
Ice-out was early in 2012, due to the mild winter. Heather (L28) and her tag-less companion arrived back at Langman prior to Easter weekend. It is good to see that she has apparently found another long-time partner. Both birds spent the summer at Langman. Early in the season, they looked like they might be nesting, but they did not produce any offspring. A woman on the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Facebook page reported that they over-wintered in Washago and she fed them frequently during the winter months.
Heather and her new soul mate:
The 2013 season at Langman Sanctuary was basically a repeat of 2013. This year, the pair stayed out in the middle of the marsh for several weeks, giving hope that perhaps they would finally produce some cygnets, but it was not meant to be. This year, a man who posted some amazing pictures of Heather and mate on the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Facebook page dubbed the tagless male "Sean"... so the pair is now known as Sean and Heather. Despite his wild origins, Sean has proven to be a very people-friendly bird. He and Heather are both amenable to eating corn from the hands of people they know.
Success!! In 2014, Sean (untagged, unbanded) and Heather (L28) produced two cygnets. One survived the season, and successfully fledged. He was tagged (M79) and named "Ambrose."
In early January 2015, the family was spotted at the feeding station at Wye Marsh. They were not seen at their usual winter hang out: the feeding station at the Washago town docks, but on the week of April 12, 2015, Sean and Heather reappeared at Langman marsh to settle in for the season.
Sean (left) and Heather (right) at Langman on April 14, 2015
Sean (Untagged, unbanded)