Effort solves trumpeter swan mystery

Posted: February 6, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Teamwork between wildlife photographers, birders and others around the country determined that a collared trumpeter swan spotted in Cleburne County recently was part of a tracking survey that began last summer in Iowa.

The search began innocently enough when Kenny Nations, an Arkansas wildlife photographer, sent the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission a photograph of a trumpeter swan wintering at a pond in Cleburne County wearing an unusual-looking neck collar. Swans and geese are often banded by biologists with colored neck collars with large numbers to identify them at a distance. However, this collar had no visible numbers or letters, nor was the collar the characteristic bright color of usual bands.

Karen Rowe, the agency's nongame migratory bird program coordinator, sent Nations' photo to several biologists around the country, including Margaret Smith, the executive director of The Trumpeter Swan Society, based in Plymouth, Minnesota. Smith had participated in the banding of nine juvenile trumpeter swans by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and ornithology students at Iowa State University using different neck collars than ones employed in the past.

These Global Positioning Satellite collars would allow the swans' movements to be tracked by the Iowa researchers. Smith recognized the style of collar in the Arkansas photograph as the same she had seen in Iowa.

Smith forwarded the swan photo to Tyler Harms, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He said the swan possibly could be identified if the very small numbers on the collar could be viewed. Harms suggested a birdwatcher could try to relocate the swan and use a spotting scope to read the tiny numbers.

The only problem was that there were more than 500 swans wintering across Cleburne County in central Arkansas.

"Locating one specific swan wearing a tan collar somewhere on a pond, lake, river or field in this 592-square-mile county was the proverbial needle in the haystack," Rowe said.

She asked both Nations and another avid bird and swan watcher, Terry Butler, to be on the lookout. Butler was swan-watching at a pond belonging to Verlon Abrams, who is an avid trumpeter swan caretaker. Butler scanned the hundreds of swans on the pond before locating one with the tan collar, as well as a band. He could tell the collar had markings, though he couldn't clearly make them out.

It so happened photographer Randy Rhodes happened to be nearby using an exceptionally long lens. Butler asked Rhodes if he could take detailed photos of the swan in question. Rowe sent Rhode's band and collar photos to Iowa.

The swan was Cygnet 1702, a trumpeter swan originally banded in late summer 2017 at Otter Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area in Tama County, Iowa. Researchers had lost the transmitter signal in mid-September.

The photos and Butler's observations noted the GPS transmitter was no longer attached to the collar, evidently lost somewhere on the swan's migration.

Sports on 02/06/2018