Trumpeter swans on Zylstra Lake | Kurt Thorson

SJPT Stewardship Manager Kathleen Foley, who coordinates the annual swan count for the Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) in San Juan County, writes:

We’ve set a new record for number of wintering trumpeter swans counted on Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan Islands—152 total birds (135 adults and 17 juveniles). This is a big jump up from 2017, when 95 birds were counted. Whether this is an actual increase in numbers of birds or due to stepped-up vigilance and wider participation in the count, it is hard to say, but I do know that anecdotally, people have been “feeling” like there were more birds this year—and, turning up in some places they hadn’t occupied in some time.

Many of our volunteer counters expressed dismay when they went out last Friday (January 19), writing things like, “But wait, there was a flock here just a few days ago!” Others got a welcome surprise. The most swans were found on Lopez—the larger flocks being 36 at a marsh near the Center Church Area, and 23 at the Richardson Wetlands. San Juan Island was the runner-up, with 26 in the fields at Red Mill Farm. Orcas was second runner-up, with 10 birds counted. Our intrepid Shaw Island counters came up with a goose egg for the fourth year in a row, but what they lack in locating swans they make up for in good attitude!

Having this info helps WDFW, certainly, but it also helps those of us who are working to conserve habitat  locally in the islands. While I’m happy to see swans using many areas that are already under protection, some of their wintering habitat is still at risk. The swans’ wintering areas are just another important layer we consider when guiding our conservation actions, and having this information is invaluable.

Thanks to all who helped tally the trumpeters this year. This is “citizen science” at its best!