Biologists need your help watching for dying swans

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Saturday, December 29, 2012 4:15pm
  • Life

Winter is a time for fun in the snow, but it’s also a time for trumpeter swans to die of lead poisoning.

Some trumpeter swans in Snohomish, Whatcom and Skagit counties, and in southwestern British Columbia, die each winter from lead poisoning after ingesting lead shot.

Lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting in Washington and British Columbia for more than a decade. But swans can still ingest lead shot while foraging in shallow underwater areas in fields and roosts.

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies and organizations have been working since 2001 to locate sources of toxic lead.

Since 2006, biologists have used various hazing techniques to discourage swans from using Judson Lake, a significant source of lead poisoning in Whatcom County on the U.S.-Canada border.

Chris Danilson, a Washington state wildlife biologist, said the effort has led to the number of lead-related swan deaths in the northern Puget Sound area to decline significantly.

The state continues to assess the impact of lead poisoning on trumpeters. It has re-established its hotline to report dead, sick or injured swans in the three counties. Call 360-466-4345, ext. 266. Leave a message, including name and phone number, and the location and condition of the swans.

The hotline is available 24 hours a day through the end of March.

Danilson said the swans should not be handled. The Department of Fish and Wildlife, Puget Sound Energy employees, or volunteers from the Washington Waterfowl Association and the Trumpeter Swan Society will pick up the birds.

At long last: An icon has officially changed hands. North Head Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment State Park at the mouth of the Columbia River has been owned for many decades by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Almost 19 years ago, the Coast Guard and Washington State Parks agreed to the change of ownership. Congress approved the transfer of the lighthouse in 1993.

However, lead-based-paint contaminated soil around the lighthouse prevented the title transfer because federal law requires its transferred real property to be certified that all action has been taken to protect human health and the environment.

A state cleanup plan was approved; work began in October 2011 and the lighthouse is now certified safe. State parks will work on restoration of the 114-year-old lighthouse with the support of the Keepers of the North Head Lighthouse.

Eagle eyes: Volunteers with the Eagle Watcher program are providing spotting scopes and binoculars for those wanting to see the bald eagles along the Skagit River. There are three stations on North Cascades Highway 20 with off-highway parking: Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport, Sutter Creek Rest area (milepost 100) and the Marblemount Fish Hatchery.

Volunteers will be there from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Jan. 27. For more information, call 360-856-5700.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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