Trumpeter Swans at LaSalle Park

by Sandy Gillians

Members of the Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club

We had a great turnout for the birding/Trumpeter Swan outing on Saturday November 29th. A total of 14 hardy members and guests of the Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club managed to find each other at LaSalle Park in Burlington in spite of confusion over “which” parking lot we had agreed to meet at. Oops! Fortuitously, the carpoolers noticed a group of people gathered at the base of a tree looking up at what we learned later was an Eastern Screech Owl. Curious, we moved to join them and to our surprise they were our own members! Thanks, Mr. Owl – although I personally would have appreciated a sighting and not just rumour of your presence.

IMG_1606We spent a windy hour sighting waterbirds by the shore of Lake Ontario, including a Bald Eagle, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Golden Eye, Red-breasted Merganser, Canvasback, Scaups, Coots, and Buffleheads. I heard music playing somewhere in the distance, and it took me a minute to realize that it was the sound of Trumpeter Swans living up to their name, and not a brass band!

Harry Lumsden
Harry Lumsden

We then took the path along the shore of LaSalle Park to meet up with the remarkable Trumpeter Swans and their saviours – the volunteers of the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Group and Coalition. Over thirty years ago Harry Lumsden, a retired Ministry of Natural Resources biologist, made it his mission to bring the endangered Trumpeter Swans back to its traditional range in Ontario. Starting with just a few eggs, Harry and his volunteers have taken Trumpeter Swans in Ontario from extinct to a population of a thousand, the vast majority of which overwinter here in LaSalle Park. According to the Trumpeter Swan Coalition,

The harbour is perfectly situated to provide shelter from the cold north and easterly winds; it has a beach area where they can rest; there is an abundance of aquatic plants for them to feed on and the water is shallow enough near shore for them to tip to feed (they don’t dive).

Human encroachment around the Great Lakes, the draining of wetlands and development have practically eliminated suitable overwintering grounds for Trumpeters. Without LaSalle, they have nowhere to go.

Gotcha! Off to be tagged.
Gotcha! Off to be tagged.

Members of the restoration group – including Harry Lumsden himself – were on hand to answer questions. To our delight volunteers were feeding the swans in order to catch some of the cygnets that required tagging for identification purposes. As one of the world’s heaviest creatures capable of flight, even the youngsters made for a big armload.

On a more serious note, the Trumpeter Swan Coalition spoke with us and with other members of the public about their concern over a proposed marina expansion. The expansion, if it goes through, will overlap this small wintering area and alter the habitat. They have persuaded the Ministry of the Environment to require a higher level of environmental assessment and it is hoped that the needs of this fragile population will take a far higher priority than encroachment for purely recreational purposes. Read more about the issue here:

At this point several of our members called it a day, and new member Aaron Keating led a much smaller group to Sedgewick Park in Oakville. This small gem of a woodlot is frequented by interesting birds late into the fall and winter, and indeed we spotted an Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, and Wilson’s Warbler among other species.

Our total count for the day was 33 species at LaSalle Park, and 5 species at Sedgewick Park.

It was a fun day out, and we’re looking forward to the next one which will be the Christmas Bird Count on December 27th.

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