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The Arrival of Harriman’s Iconic Trumpeter Swans

In this guest essay, Charlie Lansche writes about the great trumpeter swan and its presence in Harriman

Wing flaps are a common pre-flight ritual for wintering trumpeter swans in Harriman Ranch State Park.
Wing flaps are a common pre-flight ritual for wintering trumpeter swans in Harriman Ranch State Park.
Essay and photos by Charlie Lansche

It was the nasally honks emanating from a small flight of trumpeter swans that caught my attention as they sliced through gray mist rising from the river before touching down in slow-moving water 100 yards from where I stood.

I continued my trek along the banks of the Henry’s Fork in Harriman Ranch State Park during this crisp morning in early November and was soon greeted by a
Trupeter swans take flight above the open spring-fed waters of the upper Henry's Fork of the Snake River on a sub-zero January morning.
Trupeter swans take flight above the open spring-fed waters of the upper Henry's Fork of the Snake River on a sub-zero January morning.
second flight of swans descending upon these open, spring-fed waters. Sleek white bodies paired with four-foot-long wings created ghostly forms in the fog before their dark palmated feet skimmed the surface of the river as they landed.

Then another group approached followed by yet another. Before long, an uninhabited and peaceful stretch of river was speckled with more than 100 glistening white trumpeter swans. The chill air crackled with primordial cries and guttural trumpets reminiscent of an orchestra warming up before the big performance.

To my astonishment, I had witnessed the tip of the spear toward the end of an age-old fall migration for hundreds of trumpeters that had finally reached the southern fringe of their winter habitat. These elegant birds had spent the summer
In Idaho, only about 20 mating pairs of swans successfully nest and hatch signets each year.  The lakes and ponds of Harriman Ranch State Park are critical summer habitat for several of Idaho's successful breeders.
In Idaho, only about 20 mating pairs of swans successfully nest and hatch signets each year. The lakes and ponds of Harriman Ranch State Park are critical summer habitat for several of Idaho's successful breeders.
nesting and raising small broods of cygnets to sub-adulthood in the vast wetlands of Canada and Alaska.

Once abundant and widespread throughout North America, by the early 1900’s the trumpeter swan was nearly extinct. Thanks to hunting restrictions and the conservation efforts of organizations including the Trumpeter Swan Society, Wyoming Wetlands Society, and the Teton Valley Land Trust’s Trumpeter Swan Program, swan populations have significantly recovered—yet threats remain.

Trumpeter swans live and breed in wetlands, ponds and slow rivers. They require year-round access to open water that provides the aquatic plants trumpeters require as a primary food source. The loss of suitable habitat to increased
A December sunrise captured from the author's cabin along the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in Island Park, Idaho.
A December sunrise captured from the author's cabin along the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in Island Park, Idaho.
residential and agricultural development, a diminishing water supply, and climate change are factors that will continue to affect swan recovery.

While they winter, Trumpeter Swans are abundant in Harriman Ranch from November into March and April, and a much smaller summer population nests here in the shallow open lakes and waters of the ranch and surrounding areas. An even smaller population are successful breeders. In fact, Idaho has only about 20 nesting pairs of swans. Over the past 40 years, protected habitat in and adjacent to Harriman Ranch State Park has produced more cygnets than any other region in Idaho.

Harriman remains one of the finest locations in the Lower 48 to observe swans year round in their natural habitat. This winter, when you’re cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or fat-tire biking through Harriman’s superb network of trails, keep your eyes and ears open for these elegant winter inhabitants and savor their return from the brink of extinction.

A version of this essay first appeared in Friends of Harriman State Park News. Charlie Lansche sits on the board of Friends of Harriman.

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Charlie Lansche
About Charlie Lansche

A former finance-guru-turned-photographer, Charlie Lansche launched C.M. Lansche Images with his wife Coni in 2012 with a focus on photographer featuring natural landscapes, weather and wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Harnessing a lifelong passion for the outdoors, Lansche's images have been published in magazines across the country.
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