History was made in upper reaches of the Blackfoot Watershed on March 5th, 2010. Arriving nearly a month before “schedule”, a pair of trumpeter swans was observed on Cadotte Creek Wetland east of Lincoln. These two swans, identifiable by their distinct red collars, were released in 2008 as part of the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program. What we are wondering is will they, like harbingers of spring, be the first sign that another historical event is about to take place? As we anxiously await the next few months to see if these snow white birds will go down in history a second time for being the first pair of trumpeter swans to nest in the Blackfoot Watershed as a result of restoration efforts.
Swans released in the Blackfoot Watershed typically return the April following their release. Spring-fed creeks and wetlands tend to be the first open water to appear so the Cadotte Creek Wetland was a perfect location for the birds and the location ten miles east of Lincoln along Highway 200 was a perfect location for birdwatchers. Their presence attracted many onlookers to watch them feed and perform showy displays. As largest of all North American waterfowl and weighing approximately 20 pounds, they tend to command attention.
These swans were released in the Ovando Valley in 2008 as yearlings. This year, as three-year olds, they have reached sexual maturity and we anticipate that they will select a place in which stake out their territory, set up their nest and raise their young. A swan will molt all of its flight feathers on the wetland that they intend to nest on in the future. Molting is a natural process in which the birds loose all of their flight feathers and grow all new feathers in their place. The entire process takes approximately six weeks. Through this process, they are essentially testing that the wetland is a safe place for them and their future young. While 5P8 and 7P9 are in the upper watershed for now, it is highly likely that the pair will follow the spring thaw back to the Ovando Valley where they molted to select a nest site. If they are successful, they will go down in history as our first breeding pair in the Blackfoot Watershed as a result of the restoration efforts.
The return swans 7P9 and 5P8 may not only signify an early spring, but hope. Hope that in 2010 the restoration efforts will be one step closer to its goal of restoring trumpeter swans to the Blackfoot Watershed. Hope that once again we will hear the wild trumpet of the swan echoing across a wetland. Hope that the future looks brighter for this magnificent bird.