If you have not read the previous post about Trumpeter Swans, please Click Here and take a moment to read it. It really sets the stage for this story.
On Saturday, Feb. 5th, 2022, I sat quietly observing the Trumpeter Swans as they fed south of Yesler Cove, along the north side of Union Bay. As soon as the Swans noticed my approach I stopped paddling and put down my anchors. I was pleased when they settled back down and returned to feeding.
During the prior week, a very kind friend observed that one of the Union Bay Trumpeter Swans appeared to be sick. This thoughtful friend contacted Martha Jordan at the Northwest Swan Conservation Association (NWSCA) while also continuing to keep incredibly close tabs on the Swan.
I was waiting for Martha and her friend, Paul, to arrive in a larger craft. They were hoping to rescue the sick Swan. Lead poisoning is not uncommon among Swans. However, with appropriate and timely treatment, Swans sometimes recover.
By the way, everyone mentioned in this story is a volunteer. I cannot communicate the depth of devotion to Swans shared among these kind-hearted souls. My friend's constant concern for the Swan helped motivate all of us.
Martha has devoted over thirty years to working with Swans. Paul is the President of the non-profit NWSCA and Martha is the Executive Director. Martha has both the appropriate government approval and experience required to rescue Swans in need of treatment.
Note: For those of us without such approval, it is not legal to attempt a rescue.
Click Here to learn about the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Trumpeter Reporting Hotline. Click Here to attend an upcoming training session sponsored by Seattle Audubon and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife that addresses this type of issue more broadly.
The sick Swan was not among the group I was watching, nor had I seen it when I crossed Union Bay. However, the day before it had been with all the other Swans.
On Friday, the rest of the flock had been feeding near Birch Island in the southwest corner of Union Bay. However the sick Swan on the left just paddled around, often with its mouth gaping open, never putting its head below the water to feed.
Gaping is often a sign of stress among birds. It is especially true if the bird is not eating. Among sick Trumpeter Swans, lead poisoning is a common issue that can cause this and other symptoms.
Swans do not have molars. To process their food they need to swallow small hard objects, like pebbles, which collect in their gizzards and help grind up their food. A piece of lead measuring smaller than one inch or weighing less than one ounce may look like a functional pebble to a Swan. Martha explained that once the lead is retained inside the body, a Swan is unlikely to survive for more than three weeks. Because of this issue, the use of lead while shooting waterfowl became illegal in 1991. Many other uses of lead remain legal.
When Martha and Paul arrived they were informed by my friend that the sick Swan was inside Yesler Cove. Sadly, the Cove was too shallow for their motorized craft. Given the shallow draft of my kayak, Martha directed me to enter the cove anticipating that the Swan might decide to exit in their direction.
I stayed as far away from the Swan as possible. I did not want it to waste any energy moving deeper into the cove. The Swan quickly paddled out of the cove. Initially, it headed towards Martha and Paul. However, because it stayed in the shallows, closer to shore, they were unable to reach it, the Swan turned south.
When the Swan moved out into deeper water Martha and Paul made a second attempt. The Swan took to the air and flew across the bay to rejoin the flock near Birch Island.
A final attempt was made, however, the whole flock, including the sick Swan, took to the air and flew away to the southeast part of Union Bay. Martha immediately chose to stop the rescue, not wanting to harass the healthy Swans. At this point, it was getting late in the day and Martha mentioned returning to rescue the Swan at another time. She asked that I monitor the Swan and keep her apprised of the situation.
Over the next week, the Swan continued to decline. Sometimes it was fairly close to the flock, at other times not so much. My friend and I took turns watching. By Wednesday, Feb. 9th it left the water and began laying on the shore of Birch Island. However, It was still alert enough to raise its head when the Bald Eagles were calling nearby.
By Thursday evening it had moved a few feet to the west but had spent two days out of the water. It appeared to be stranded on the island. I did not see it feeding or drinking, and it was no longer keeping up with the flock. It seemed ready for a rescue. Martha and Paul arranged to arrive with a shallower, non-motorized boat on Saturday morning. Surprisingly, on Friday morning, when I checked Birch Island from shore there was no sign of the Swan.
I spent the morning checking all the normal places around Union Bay where we had previously seen the Swan. No luck. Of course, there are portions of the islands that cannot be seen from the mainland. In the afternoon, I decided to actually visit Birch Island for a closer look. I was wondering if the Swan was still alive.
I carefully inspected the island. I was relieved that there was no body and there were no large white feathers. Apparently, the Swan had left the island without a fight and hopefully under its own power. I did notice two Raccoons, totally focused on mating, just north of where the Swan had spent the last two days. It seems likely that the Raccoons scared the Swan into leaving.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the kayak inspecting the hidden parts of the Union Bay shoreline to the west and north, and the shores of Broken Island, Island #2, and Canoe Island. There was no sign of the sick Swan anywhere.
If you Click Here and drill into my map you can see the various Union Bay islands and locations.
As I headed home Monty and Marsha were sitting in a cottonwood watching over Birch Island. Nearby an immature Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in a smaller tree. After I left, I looked back and saw the Hawk relocate to the dead Birch tree on Birch Island.
I could not resist returning for a photo of the young Hawk as the sun was setting. The light-colored iris is an indicator of youth.
The situation reminded me that earlier in the week the Bald Eagles had been closely watching the island and the Swan. Sadly, once lead has been ingested it is essentially communicable. If the creature dies of lead poisoning or is slowed to the point it is attacked and killed by another, then when the body is consumed, the lead is passed on. Apparently, this issue is far more widespread among Bald Eagles than anyone expected. Click Here to read this recent story from the Seattle Times.
If this Swan had died unattended on Birch Island the local Bald Eagles, Monty and Marsha, and potentially the northern pair, Russ and Talia, as well as the Raccoons would have been prime candidates to consume the body.
The next morning Martha and Paul arrived in a shallower craft. Here is their interaction in Martha's words.
"...Something I have never seen or experienced happened. We chased the ill Swan briefly as it could swim but not holding its wings up. Once I had it in the boat, I heard the other Swans calling. I looked back and they had all turned and were following our boat as we paddled to Waterway 1 for landing. They followed us at a distance the entire time we were on the water, calling softly as we went along. The Swan at my feet heard them and was more settled than what usually happens. It was emotional for all of us, including Paul who was doing most of the paddling.
This is an unusual capture as normally there are no other Swans present when we make a capture, at least not any healthy ones. This was a big water area and the Swans could stay at a distance. The ill Swan was only a year old and likely was with some siblings or family members from the previous year. I do know that Swans care for each other..."
Later, the Swan was cared for and medically evaluated. In the process, this X-ray was performed. If you look closely in the center of the photo you can see the reflective portion of a fishing lure. At this point, the lead weight had been totally ground up and taken into the bloodstream. Keeping the Swan alive further would have just prolonged the agony, while its body was slowly shutting down, and would not have changed the outcome.
When fishing in warm weather, without a Trumpeter Swan in sight, the connection between the loss of a fishing lure and the demise of a Swan, during the following Winter, could be hard to make. If you fish, hunt, or know someone who does, I hope you will pass this story along.
Non-lead weights and non-lead shot maybe more expensive, but isn't a healthy Swan is worth every penny.
Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!
Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:
1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (When native plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.
My friend Elaine Chuang shared several resources (that were new to me) from the January Washington Ornithological Society meeting. The major new concept is that specific keystone native plants enable critical moths and caterpillars that in turn provide food for the great majority of birds, especially during the breeding season. Here are the top two links from her list.
Native Keystone Plants for Wildlife:
Resources for adding plants to your Pacific Northwest Garden:
Click Here to access a King County publication that explains the best placement for a wide variety of native plants. It looks quite helpful.
Also, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is very helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.
Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)
Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening
. Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here
to learn more.
In the area below it is my intention to display at least one photo each week to help challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.
What native plant is currently leafing out, while most others are not?
Scroll down for the answer.
This plant has also been called Indian Plum. In Erna Gunther's book, "Ethnobotany of Western Washington"
she mentions eight different indigenous peoples who ate this plant. Although, it may not have been their first choice. It does have a curious taste.
The Email Challenge:
Over the years, I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements. As of 2021, Google has discontinued the service.
In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:
Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list.
Thank you for your patience and interest!
My email address is:
The Comment Challenge:
Another common issue is losing your input while attempting to leave a comment on this blog. Often everything functions fine, however, sometimes people are unable to make it past the robot-detection challenge or maybe it is the lack of a Google account. I am uncertain about the precise issue. Sadly, a person can lose their comment with no recovery recourse.
If you write a long comment, please, copy it before hitting enter. Then, if the comment function fails to record your information, you can send the comment directly to me using email.
My email address is:
A Final Photo: