Swans on San Juan Island’s Zylstra Lake during the 2023 Swan Count | staff archive

Each year for the past few decades, the San Juan Preservation Trust has helped coordinate the San Juan Island region of Washington’s statewide annual wintering swan count. On Friday, January 20, 2023, dozens of volunteer swan-counters woke up to a springlike day of sun and calm weather as they prepared to go out to various islands around the archipelago and monitor for swans.

Thanks to a hearty 51 volunteers across six islands this year, we were able to count 91 swans in the San Juan Islands. This is consistent with the 10-year countywide average of 97 swans and more than last year’s count of 65. Counters on San Juan Island tallied the most swans with 68, followed by Lopez with 15 and Orcas with eight. You can see the distribution of swans at different territories in the table below.

This is the first year since 2020 that we did not see a decline in the number of swans from the previous annum. Remember that we think of these snapshots as indexes and not absolute numbers—likely some are missed—but it does give an indication of relative abundance.

Among the swans counted, none were juveniles. We did, however, receive word of multiple sightings of juveniles in the weeks before the count, stretching back to December, all on San Juan Island. Regardless, there appears to be diminishing numbers of juvenile swans in the islands each year. The reasons for this are unknown at this point.

The vast majority of swans were seen at Zylstra Lake on San Juan Island, which had a flock of 49—including one tundra swan, a rarity in the islands—counted by volunteer Phil Green. This large flock speaks to the quality of the habitat at Zylstra Lake, as well as to the San Juan County Land Bank’s efforts to preserve the property at large while also keeping seasonal trail closures in place to allow the birds to rest and forage without disturbance. We’re so glad to partner with the Land Bank on the Zylstra Lake property and many others for reasons just like this.

A big thank-you to our committed corps of volunteer swan-counters for helping us collect this important information!

Special thanks also go to everyone who made many wonderful submissions to our 2023 Swan Count Photo Contest! We published the winning entries on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Here’s a gallery of the prize-winning photographers and their submissions:

Joe Belcovson photographed a beautiful scene as a flock of swans flew above Zylstra Lake on San Juan Island. In addition to submitting a handful of wonderful images, he took home the awards for top overall photo (top left, swans in lake and in flight with barn) as well as the “best swans in flight” photo series.

Amanda Zimlich did not see any swans at Flaherty’s Pond (aka Otter’s Lair Pond) on Orcas Island during the count, but she did witness the resident otter eating what she thought was a frog as well as several other residents of the wetland, including a great blue heron and a pair of hooded mergansers. She won the “best non-swan” photography award.

Kate McDowell saw seven swans at Sportsman’s Lake during the count. The tranquil scenes she captured from around the northern San Juan Island lake give us a perspective that makes it seem as if we’re also on the lakeside watching the swans with her. Kate was awarded the “best perspective” award for her photos.

Ben Floyd saw four swans out at Eagle Lake on Orcas during the swan count and they looked like they were out and fully taking advantage of the sunny weather that late January morning. Ben takes home the award for “most playful” photos.

Victoria Parker did not see any swans while she was out monitoring at a few bodies of water on the south side of Orcas Island, but that did not stop her from taking some moments to relax and reflect on her time in the outdoors. Her photo of a still Diamond Lake earned her the “most reflective” award.

Have a swan comment or question? Feel free to email Kathleen Foley Lewis at kathleen@sjpt.org.

See previous years’ results: 2022, 2021202020192018

Sign up here to volunteer for the 2023 Swan Count!

Read more about Trumpeter Swans on WDFW’s info page.