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Trumpeter Swans - Big White Birds

An estimated 10,000 Trumpeter Swan winter along the southwest coast of British Columbia. This represents about 1/2 of the world's population. There are many excellent places to view wintering swans, including both estuaries and farm lands.

Swans are commonly seen during the winter months on fields in Delta near Boundary Bay, Nicomen Island east of Mission, around Agassiz in the Fraser Valley, on Martindale Flats north of Victoria and in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Each of these areas has local estuaries and/or waterways that provide safe locations for them to spend the night.

With binoculars or a spotting scope you can observe the activities of these magnificent birds without disturbing them. In the winter, you can see two colours of swans. The adults are white while the brownish-grey birds are the young born the past spring. The young remain close to their parents allowing you to observe family groups.

Swans favour large, shallow fresh-water ponds or wide, slow-moving rivers with lots of vegetation. They eat mainly stems, leaves and roots of aquatic plants including pondweed, sedges, rushes, bulrush and burreed. To forage in deeper water swans will upend, like ducks and other waterfowl, with tail up and long neck extended straight down. In these situations food is found by touch with the bill.

Trumpeter Swans are the largest native waterfowl species in North America. They can live up to 24 years in the wild, but most live for less than 12 years. They have an average wingspan of 196 cm (77 in) and can can fly at 35 km per hour (20 mph).

Like some other waterfowl species, most Trumpeter Swan, once paired, will remain together for life. However, if one of the pair dies, the survivor may take another mate.

Many people know that young swans are called "cygnets". But did you know that a male swan is called a "cob" and a female a "pen"?

In some locations where you find Trumpeter Swan you may see a few Tundra Swan. Tundra Swan are smaller and its bill is slightly concave as compared to a Trumpeter Swan. It is common for the yellow patch at the base of the Tundra Swan bill to be hard to see or absent.

Web Site and E-mail - Note New Addresses

The British Columbia Wildlife Watch web site has a new address. While the old address will work through next summer, please update your bookmarks to the new address:

If you have access to the internet, the web site is the best place to get information on the latest festival or special wildlife event. There is lots of site specific information, and links to many interesting sites related to wildlife viewing and bird watching.

New material is being added monthly. As time permits, many of the brochures are being made available on-line, including the quickly expanding Visit Our Wildlife series, and all of the program's bird checklists.

If you there is some viewing information that you can't find on the web site, e-mail and ask.

Series Expands - Visit Our Wildlife

In late November look for two new brochures in the Visit Our Wildlife series plus an updated version of the first brochure in the series.

The Visit Our Wildlife in Campbell River brochure highlights 13 sites including several in Strathcona Provincial Park. Viewing highlights include spawning fish, Elk, marine birds, waterfowl, shorebirds and seals.This brochure is funded by Shell Canada's Shell Environmental Fund and the Campbell River Chapter of the Canada Trust Friends of the Environment Foundation.

The Visit Our Wildlife in Hope brochure highlights 12 sites including viewing opportunities in Skagit Valley and E.C. Manning Provincial Parks. Viewing highlights include ground-squirrels, marmots, Pikas, butterflies and spawning fish. Printing of this brochure is made possible through a grant from the Chilliwack/Sardis Chapter of the Canada Trust Friends of the Environment Foundation.

The first Visit Our Wildlife brochure was for the Mission area. Due to its popularity it was quickly out of print. An updated version will also be available in late November. It is funded by the Mission/Maple Ridge Chapter of the Canada Trust Friends of the Environment Foundation.

Watch for more brochures in the Visit Our Wildlife Series coming this spring!

Trumpeter Swan Festival - Comox Valley

The beautiful Comox Valley on Vancouver Island is home to 2,000 elegant Trumpeter Swan. These birds only winter here, arriving in late October and departing by mid April. Their numbers usually peak in February.

The world's population of Trumpeter Swan is estimated to be 20,000 birds. Therefore the Comox Valley provides important wintering habitat for one-tenth of the world's population.

For a number of years the Trumpeter Swan Sentinel Society has organized a festival to celebrate and view the wintering swans. In past years this event was held over two weekends with school programs throughout the week.

For the year 2000, this event will be held on just one day, February 12th, with a special theme of Adopt-A-Swan. This is to draw attention to the new Wildlife Legacy Fund that will support ongoing management efforts to provide feeding habitat for the swans. The day will include two guided bus tours of swan grazing sites in the Comox Valley, naturalist guided swan viewing at the former Farquharson Farm and ceremonies introducing the Adopt-A-Swan program. Other activities are still being planned.

For information contact the Society at #3 - 2401 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay, B.C. V9N 2L5, phone (250) 334-3234 or e-mail. Event information will also be posted on their web site.

Swan Management

The Trumpeter Swan Festival in the Comox Valley grew from efforts to actively provide wintering habitats while protecting local farm crops and fields. Without cooperation of local farmers the Comox Valley would not support a healthy wintering population of Trumpeter Swan.

Swans feed on aquatic vegetation and wild grasses in their natural environments. But they have adapted to feeding on waste produce (carrots, potatoes, parsnips and corn) in harvested fields, and on grass crops found in agricultural fields. While this feeding prevents undesirable volunteer crops, disease and pest outbreaks, it can cause serious to permanent crop and field damage.

When the vegetables are depleted the swans begin feeding on grass fields. Each swan can eat about 4.5 kg (10 lbs) of grass per day. A cow consumes about 45 kg (100 lbs) of grass per day. Therefore 10 swans equals 1 cow. Local farmers were supporting 2000 swans (or 200 cows) without economic benefit.

In 1991, the Canadian Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and many local farmers began cooperating in a comprehensive Trumpeter Swan Management Project throughout valley. Winter crops were planted on harvested fields to reduce damage to nearby grass fields. These crops could lure Trumpeter Swan away from vulnerable crops that farmers want to protect.

Visit Our Wildlife in Port Hardy - Northern Vancouver Island

The latest addition to the Visit Our Wildlife brochure series is Visit Our Wildlife in Port Hardy. This brochure covers the northern end of Vancouver Island and includes the communities of Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Port Alice, Alert Bay, Telegraph Cove and Sayward.

The funds to print this brochure were generously provided by Shell Canada's Shell Environmental Fund and the District of Port Hardy.

A dozen viewing sites are highlighted in The Port hardy are brochure. These sites include hatcheries, estuaries, fish streams, forests, wetlands and marine areas. Most sites are easily accessed, but some are best experienced by boat.

At the very northern tip of Vancouver Island is Cape Scott Provincial Park. Its marine coastline, bays and lagoons offer excellent viewing of three species of scoters, Trumpeters Swan and many land mammals.

The Hardy Bay - Quatse River Estuary area is located in Port Hardy. Bald Eagle are a common sight throughout the year. Belted Kingfisher, ducks, geese, mergansers and shorebirds may be observed. Tide change is often a good time to visit this site. Pink and Coho Salmon use the estuary before entering the Quatse River to spawn.

To get a better look at the spawning salmon visit the Quatse River Hatchery just upstream from the estuary. October is the best month to see salmon in the river. The hatchery is open daily from 8 am to 4:30pm.

The road to Port Alice crosses the Marble River. This is a good spot to stop and view American Dippers in the rushing water of the falls, and to look for Chinook and Coho Salmon migrating upstream from mid September to mid December. A Western Forest Products recreation site is located here and a trail leads to Marble River Provincial Park, the site of Bear Falls and a fishway.

Visible from the Marble River bridge is the Marble River Hatchery which raises Chinook and Coho Salmon. A short road leads into this small facility that is open from mid January to the end of July.

A short 15 minute drive past Port Alice takes you to the Port Alice Hatchery. It is located near Colonial and Cayeaghle Creeks. Chum, Coho and Chinook Salmon spawning peaks in October.

Just south of Port McNeill along the Nimpkish River is the Gwa'ni (Nimpkish) Hatchery. Chinook, Chum and Coho Salmon are raised at this very large facility. Chum Salmon spawning near the hatchery are seen from mid November to mid December.

Located on Cormorant Island near the Village of Alert Bay is the Alert Bay Ecological Park. A network of trails and boardwalks provides access through this unusual wetland area. Among the many bird species, look for Bald Eagle and Common Raven. Dragonflies are numerous.

The marine waterways are an excellent place to watch for Killer Whale and other marine mammals including dolphins, porpoises, sea lions and seals. Sea bird viewing is also very good. Broughton Strait located between Port McNeill, Sointula and Alert Bay is frequented by these species with the best viewing from June through October. Killer Whale are often seen from the BC Ferry that runs between these communities. The Johnstone Strait area is another good place to look for marine mammals. Ocassionally whales are seen at a distance from Telegraph Cove.

In the community of Sayward is the Salmon River Estuary. Trumpeter Swan winter here. Waterfowl, eagles, kingfishers, herons, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk and Harbour Seal may be seen.

Courtenay Estuary - Year-Round Viewing

The Courtenay River Estuary, located in Courtenay, is a wonderful place to watch wildlife. It is an important home to wintering Trumpeter Swan. The estuary is especially good for birding during the winter and migratory periods with numerous shorebird and waterfowl species observed. Pacific Herring spawn in March attracts many gulls, Harbour Seal and Osprey.

From Highway 19A (Cliffe Avenue) turn onto Mansfield Drive located almost directly across from the White Spot Restaurant. The road bends right and passes a small air park. At the end of the runway is the trail leading into the estuary, and to several viewing structures and interpretive signs. Look for the blue and white binocular logo signs.

How Close is Too Close? - Food for Thought

So you want to see wildlife up close - but when are you too close? When are you disturbing the wildlife that you want to see?

A general rule of thumb to use is if you cause wildlife to stop what they are doing then you are too close - an animal stops feeding to look at you or moves away; a resting bird raises its head to watch you or flattens its feathers; an animal alters its activity path because you are present.

When you get too close you become a threat. An animal that stops feeding, whether or not it flees from you, is wasting important time and energy.

You can get that really close feeling with binoculars or a spotting scope. However, this does not mean that you should get as close as possible before using your viewing aid.

Wildlife determine the level of threat partly by the size of "eye" it detects. Binoculars pose a bigger eye than your own. But spotting scopes show an even bigger "eye". The bigger the eye, the greater the perceived threat. Even staying back a bit with a scope can cause more disturbance to wildlife than getting slightly closer with binoculars.

Bald Eagle Viewing - Many Locations

There are many good sites to observe wintering Bald Eagle and several special events are held in British Columbia to enhance your viewing experience.

Special activities occur at Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria from mid December through February. The Eagle Run site along the Squamish River offers opportunities to view our largest wintering population of eagles.

From 1996 to 1998 British Columbia Wildlife Watch organized the Harrison Chehalis Bald Eagle Festival. The purposes of this popular event were to facilitate public viewing of Bald Eagles, to encourage appropriate viewing ethics and to foster a greater appreciation for, and understanding of, the wildlife and habitats of the area. The best location to observe some of the 700 to 1,100 Bald Eagle in the Fraser Valley is at Harrison Bay (Kilby Provincial Park/Chehalis Flats.

Bird Tracks

Oyster Bay Shoreline Park

    Located along Highway 19 about 14 km south of Campbell River and about 30 km north of Courtenay. Access is at a highway rest stop. This small regional park offers good shorebird viewing, especially at tide changes. Most of the year look for Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Bald Eagle and Great Blue Heron. Bird viewing peaks during migration periods. Harbour Seal are regularly seen in this area. A kiosk at the trail head provides both plant and wildlife information.

Elk River Valley, Strathcona Provincial Park

    Located along Highway 28 towards Gold River, the Elk River Viewing Site is well marked. The best time for seeing Roosevelt Elk is during the winter months - November to early March. A short trail leads you through typical Elk habitat and to a viewpoint overlooking a wide powerline cut where Elk are occasionally seen. A kiosk in the parking area has several interpretive signs that provide information about Elk and their habitat. Worth a visit any time of the year.

Eagle Run, Squamish River

    Located a short drive from downtown Squamish, the Eagle Run site offers excellent opportunities to observe Bald Eagles from British Columbia's largest wintering population. In peak years the Squamish area hosts about 2,000 eagles. The period from December to mid February is best. A large shelter contains numerous interpretive signs about the eagles and their habitat. On weekends during the viewing season, Eagle Watch volunteers are on site with spotting scopes. The site is wheelchair accessible.