By: Tina Novotny
The Trumpet of the Swan is a beloved children’s book by E.B. White, but there’s another great story taking place at the north end of Lake Couchiching. This past Family Day there was a special event at Washago to celebrate the successful restoration of trumpeter swans, who were hunted to extinction in Ontario in the 1800s. It was also a salute to Harry Lumsden, who led the drive to reintroduce the swans to their traditional Ontario environments.
“Family Day was a meet and greet for families to come and learn about the swans and enjoy their presence. About 200 people attended,” said Susan Best, a local organizer. “It was a pleasure to have nearly every volunteer from around Ontario, but especially to have Harry Lumsden (now 96 years young) attend and see the interest in his life’s work and legacy.”
Trumpeter swans were prized for their meat for food and their feathers for quills, stuffing blankets and fashion accessories. Their feet were used to fashion ladies’ purses. The last known swan was shot at Long Point in 1886.In the mid 1980s, Harry Lumsden, then a biologist with Ministry of Natural Resources, had the vision to see the majestic birds returned, and started the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program.
Eggs from Alaska and Wisconsin were obtained and incubated. The resultant cygnets were raised for two years by cooperator farmers – volunteers who agreed to nurture the young swans and ensure a healthy result. 542 swans were released at historically documented wetlands. These were places such a Wye Marsh where the Jesuit diaries chronicled the presence of trumpeter swans.
Washago, at the north end of Lake Couchiching, is the first known wintering area where trumpeter swans congregate where they were not released. It’s an open area with healthy currents, shallow enough to provide an abundance of natural forage for the birds. The great turnout of swans and spectators on Family Day reflects the success of the restoration program. But there is always more work to be done.
“The restoration program is completely volunteer run,” says Susan Best. “We rely on kind donations from the public for our banding and tagging activities as well as vet care for any sick or injured birds.” To find out how you can contribute to the trumpeter swan count and other conservation activities, please contact the registered charity Amherst Wildlife Foundation at Trumpeterswan@live.com.