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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Wild swan moves in

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Breakthroughs thrill Storm Lake's trumpeter swan anti-extinction team.

The Buena Vista County Swan Restoration Project just got an unexpected and rare shot in the arm - er, wing.

Recently, a rare wild, untagged trumpeter swan settled into the project's main pond off Highway 71 near Storm Lake, apparently attracted by the permanent trumpeters brought there in hopes of mating the rare birds.

This arrival would be the first truly wild trumpeter swan to migrate here in over 120 years. According to state swan expert Ron Andrews, who visited the Storm Lake swan committee this week, there have been only nine nestings of free swans in Iowa this year. "It's really fascinating to watch a wild swan interact with our birds. This is something that you can only hope will happen when you do a project like this," said Mark Kirkholm, a founding member of the swan committee.

A mated pair of rare swans were also recently obtained to replace other adults that have been lost in accidents and illnesses. An environmentalist in Cedar Falls helped the locals to obtain the birds, which were hatched in New York state. The pair, which successfully produced cygnets for the first time last year, will be the resident pair at the Swan Pond next summer, when the other birds will be moved to separate mating ponds around the area.

Also, this week, the committee finalized plans for a new observation platform to be built at the pond to allow students and nature lovers better access to the swans. A fundraiser will begin soon in hopes of raising $7,000-$10,000 for construction costs. Volunteer labor will be sought. The rectangular decking will extend over the bank, allowing close-up viewing without disrupting the rare birds' habitat. At the same time, there are plans to upgrade the parking area, add more informational and educational signs to the area, and follow through on Department of Transportation plans for additional trees and landscaping for the Highway 71 site.

The committee debated five suggested permanent names for the swan pond site this week, settling on one choice that it will take to the Buena Vista County Conservation Board for consideration later this week. While the name will not be revealed until that time, the committee voted in "overwhelming agreement" on the choice, rejecting four other potential names, all nominated in honor of conservation-minded individuals who have had an impact on the area.

The conservation board had previously favored naming the site "Grant Wildlife Area," after Grant Township, in which it is located. The swan committee had asked for the decision to be delayed long enough for it to forward another option.

The swan committee also gave overwhelming approval to a new educational outreach arm of their program. A teacher who happens to be related to the Edson Trust which has helped with the swan program in the past provided a copy of the book "The Trumpet Song" by E.B. White, with the suggestion that the swan lovers could collaborate with area schools by sharing the story. Committee members were so thrilled with the book that they decided to obtain copies for local schools and investigate curriculum which could accompany the swan story. They will network with interested teachers as soon as possible.

"The committee was very excited about the chance to step beyond the nuts and bolts of breeding swans and reach out to the children about what is taking place. Personally, I'm so pleased that they took this on with such overwhelming support," Kirkholm said.

In other business, the committee named Mike Griggs of rural Schaller as the next chairperson of the group. Griggs will replace Kirkholm, who asked to step down after leading the committee each of the three years since it was formed. Griggs' home pond has played host to pairs of the birds in recent seasons. Scott Olesen was named as treasurer, and Hector Velez as a new member of the committee.

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