A pair of trumpeter swans swims in a Lopez Island marsh off Fisherman Bay Road. They winter here after spending summer breeding months in Canada or Alaska.
HONK! HONK! The Lopez trumpeters have arrived.
We’ve always enjoyed the migrant populations of trumpeter swans in the Skagit Valley every winter. These birds, stretching up to 6 feet in length, are North America’s largest native waterfowl.
It’s a stirring sight when two or more fly overhead with their long, snowy necks outstretched and giant wings spread wide, often filling the cold autumn air with a honk that, to be honest, sounds more like a Model T Ford than a brass trumpet. Gives you shivers, nonetheless.
In our first autumn in the San Juans, a year ago, we were pleased to discover that Lopez Island is another stop for wintering trumpeters. A small population inhabits a wide mid-island wetland just off Fisherman Bay Road, a couple miles south of Lopez Village.
A few weeks ago we saw the first arrivals, coming from summer breeding grounds in coastal Alaska and Canada. This week we returned with my camera, and counted about a dozen of the big birds.
Once hunted to near-extinction because their plumes were valued for quill pens and women’s hats in the 18th and 19th centuries, trumpeters are now considered a “recovering” species.
Whenever we visit Lopez in the colder months, we make sure to drive Fisherman Bay Road and listen for the Model Ts in the sky. That’s “T” for trumpeter.
- Trumpeters take an unusual approach to keeping their eggs warm, covering them with their webbed feet. That makes sense since sitting on them might be hazardous, as adult trumpeters can weigh more than 25 pounds.
- The trumpeter’s scientific name, Cygnus buccinator, is from the Latin Cygnus (swan) and buccinare (to trumpet). Humans have a buccinator muscle in our cheeks — used to blow out candles and to blow into trumpets and other musical instruments.
— thanks to The Cornell Lab’s website, allaboutbirds.org