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Swan song: Banding effort wraps up

Patricia Manthey (left), avian ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, takes a blood sample from a captured trumpeter swan cygnet near the shore of Horseshoe Lake north of Star Prairie. She gets some help from a volunteer and Chris Trosen (right), wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.2 / 2

For the fifth and final year, western Wisconsin volunteers last week headed out to local lakes to corral and band trumpeter swans.

The banding effort was part of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources endangered species tracking effort.

According to Patricia Manthey, avian ecologist with the Bureau of Endangered Resources, since the trumpeter swan was officially taken off the endangered species list five years ago, the DNR has been monitoring the migratory birds in these parts.

But because swans could only be monitored for up to five years after being taken off the list, the end of the program has come, she told the group of volunteers Sept. 5.

On Wednesday morning, 16 volunteers met at the St. Croix Wetland Management District office near New Richmond and awaited their instructions for the day's swan banding effort.

The group eventually went to three locations (Horseshoe Lake north of Star Prairie; Bierbrauer Wildlife Production Area, two miles east of Star Prairie; and Star Prairie WPA, just east of Star Prairie.) A DNR pilot flew overhead providing radio instructions to give volunteers the best opportunity to capture birds.

The group eventually succeeded in rounding up 13 cygnets and one adult swan for banding and blood samples, even though initial efforts seemed to be futile.

The swan cygnets are a bit further along this year, thanks to the early spring, according to Manthey. Some were already flying, which makes them difficult to catch and band.

Even though the swans have been tough to catch, Manthey said a total of 136 swans statewide have been banded so far this year.

"We have banded more swans this year than in the several previous years," she said. Manthey hoped to band a few more this week before ending her efforts.

"It certainly is bittersweet," she said of the end of the monitoring program. "I'll miss the excitement of all the people who have volunteered to help with capturing and banding. They come out to help and I think most of them leave having not only helped us but having had a special experience getting close to these beautiful and amazing birds."

She said the important thing is that trumpeter swans are now "back in Wisconsin" after being absent from the landscape for more than 100 years. The swans were reintroduced to Wisconsin using eggs from Alaska, and the effort has been extremely successful, she added,

"Our goal was a self-sustaining and migratory population, and once we gave them the start, they've taken over and have achieved exactly that," she said.

Manthey said the volunteers and donations of hundreds of people made it possible for the swan project to succeed.

According to Chris Trosen, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, among the groups providing volunteers for the day's work were the River Falls-St. Croix Valley Birders, Star Prairie Fish and Game, Friends of the St. Croix WMD and St. Croix WMD and Wisconsin DNR.

"As a wildlife biologist, I enjoy getting outdoors and collecting wildlife and wildlife habitat data, but the best part of my job is finding ways to get the community involved with conservation," he commented. "The truly fun part of this event for me was to see the excitement on the faces of those who were holding a swan for the first time."

For more on the day's event, visit www.newrich for additional photos and a brief video.