Each year in late January, Preservation Trust’s Stewardship Manager, Kathleen Foley Lewis (with help from Sierra O’Connell) coordinates a count of swans in San Juan County. It’s part of a regional survey of trumpeter and tundra swans conducted annually by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Having this info helps WDFW, and it also helps those of us who are working to conserve habitat locally in the islands. It’s “citizen science” at its best!

A Bevy of Trumpeters, San Juan Island | Kathy Finholm

This year, the Preservation Trust coordinated its largest group of volunteer swan counters yet. More than 40 people throughout the San Juan Islands set out on the morning of January 21 in search of white trumpeters against a gray backdrop.

Fortunately, the lack of sun did not discourage participation in our photo contest. Several of this year’s swan counters submitted some lovely swan-filled scenes. Congratulations to our three photo contest winners: Nicole Mueller, Kathy Finholm and Sheila Boolka! You can view their photo submissions by clicking each thumbnail below.

Thank you to everyone who participated! Those of us who were coordinating from our offices felt like we were vicariously along for the count.

Misty Lake, Orcas Island | Nicole Mueller

Splashing in Cascade Lake, Orcas Island | Sheila Bolka

Fly over Trumpeter Marsh, San Juan Island | Kathy Finholm

Other fun entries:
A sketch of the survey form, by David Finholm.

A quote by Daphne Morris.
“As is normal in the San Juans, I had met friendly, helpful people, a well-behaved dog, saw a remarkable forest and enjoyed a thrilling jaunt.”

As for the long-awaited results …

In total, 81 trumpeter swans (65 adult and 16 juveniles) were counted in San Juan County. This is a decline from our local count last year, but regionally, the total results are holding steady at 17,811, even slightly up from last year (17,681).

What stood out this year was the increase of juveniles (only four were counted last year). This “flush” of young is a hopeful sign. What’s even more remarkable is that a pair of adult swans with seven cygnets were spotted on a lake on Orcas Island! According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a typical clutch may be 1–10 eggs. Juvenile survivorship is 2–7 cygnets into first fall—and these birds not only survived through their first fall, but through the winter migration. Really quite extraordinary.

Over all, it seemed as if more swans were found on small ponds, marshes and lakes, and in smaller groups—not many in the fields. This is likely because of the mild weather and ice-free ponds, plus there may even be fresh blooms of aquatic plants for them to feast on. The largest bevy (or flock) of swans, totaled 18, and was spotted at Pressenda Marsh on Lopez Island. Orcas Island’s count came in at 20 swans, Lopez at 26, and San Juan Island at 35. Shaw Island was skunked again.

This table breaks down the results by county:

2021 WDFW Swan Survey Totals
# Trumpeter # Tundra # Unknown
County Total Adult Juvenile Adult Juvenile Adult Juvenile
Skagit 10,730 7330 345 576 73 2,582 335
Whatcom 3,010 2,201 345 44 326 94
Snohomish 1,952 1,553 365 6 24 4
Island 779 648 67
San Juan 81 65 16
King 134 96 36 2
Pierce 101 92 35
Sumas Prairie (BC) 846 695 151
Totals 17,811 11,685 1,996 628 73 2,932 433

To view previous count results, see 2020 swan count, 2019 swan count, 2018 swan count.

Interested in joining the count next year? Sign up here to get on the list for 2022’s Annual Swan Count.