Aregular visitor to Utah’s wetlands this time of year is discovering that its favorite local food source isn’t as abundant as usual due to drier than normal weather in 2012.
Tundra swans are visiting some new areas as they migrate through Utah this fall, searching for the pondweed that helps sustain them as they stop to refuel on the way to wintering grounds further south.
For years, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge west of Brigham City has been a prime location to hunt or see the swans, and that hasn’t changed. The refuge is still a great spot to hunt and view swans.
But when Blair Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, did a survey recently, the refuge wasn’t the only marsh area along the eastern shore of Great Salt Lake where he saw swans. He spotted significant numbers of birds as far south as private duck clubs in Davis and Salt Lake counties.
“Sago pondweed is the main plant swans eat while they’re in Utah,” Stringham said. “Both the Bear River Refuge and the Willard Spur south of the refuge were dry earlier this year, and neither area produced the amount of pondweed it usually does. I think the swans are on the move, looking for pondweed.”
During the survey, Stringham counted 15,816 swans. He said that number could double to as many as 40,000 by this week. A survey conducted during the same time last year counted more than 43,000 swans.
“If you drew a swan hunting permit for this fall,” he said, “now is a great time to grab your gun and head to the marsh.”
The Bear River Refuge is a federal refuge, and it has some rules that are different from rules at marshes managed by the state. You can learn more on pages 20 and 21 of the 2012-2013 Utah Waterfowl Guidebook, which is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.
Utah’s swan hunting season ends Dec. 9. A total of 2,000 hunters drew a swan hunting permit earlier this fall.
If you’re one of the hunters who drew a permit, Stringham says you should spend time watching the swans and learning their flight patterns. Tundra swans are very consistent in the times of day they fly and the routes they take. However, three factors — hunting pressure, changes in the weather and the availability of food — can change a swan’s flight pattern.
Ice-up is another thing to watch for. As the water starts to freeze, swans will be in the air more, searching for areas that still have open water.
To protect trumpeter swans, Stringham said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceand the Utah Wildlife Board have closed all of the areas in Utah north of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, and north of Forest Street (the road leading from Brigham City to the refuge), to swan hunting.
If you drew a swan permit, please remember the following. These requirements help the DWR and the USFWS obtain an accurate count of the number of trumpeter swans that hunters accidentally take:
• Within 72 hours of taking a swan, you must take your bird to a DWR office, or the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, so it can be examined and measured.
• You must complete a harvest questionnaire no later than Jan. 8, 2013. The questionnaire must be completed, even if you don’t hunt swans or take a swan.
• You can access the questionnaire online at www.wildlife.utah.gov. It can also be completed by calling 1-800-221-0659.
If you don’t do these things, you’ll have to meet several additional requirements — including paying a $50 late fee and completing the swan orientation course again — before you can apply for a swan permit in 2013.