Trumplings' swan song at Lake Kittamaqundi


Columbia is no paradise for trumpling swans.

The disappearance of a trumpling swan from Columbia's Lake Kittamaqundi in September and the spray-painting of a swan earlier this month have forced researchers to move the lake's four resident swans to Virginia.

The swans were rounded up yesterday morning by Columbia Association workers to be transported to Airlie Center in central Virginia, a preserve and home to the Swan Research Program.

"I couldn't be happier to see them go. I was getting very worried about their safety," said Helen Thompson, a member of the Columbia Waterfowl Committee, a wildlife protection group. "A swan has no business trying to get into Clyde's or the mall."

The four trumpling swans residing on the lake -- five until September when one of the brood vanished -- had been spotted often looking for food handouts from patrons of Clyde's restaurant, located on the lakefront. They also stopped traffic on occasion as they crossed Little Patuxent Parkway and wandered into the Columbia Mall parking lot.

"Their safety was very much an issue in the decision to move the birds," said Charles "Chick" Rhodehamel, staff ecologist for the Columbia Association. The nonprofit organization manages the community's facilities and the town's three lakes.

The first sign of trouble for the five swans came in early September when a swan affectionately known as "Elvira" vanished.

No sign of the bird has been found, despite an extensive search. Some members of the waterfowl committee speculate she was stolen.

Then the birds were spotted cruising Clyde's and heading for the mall.

Next, one of the elegant-looking birds was found Nov. 8 with its hind feathers spray painted red, said Pam Mack, a Columbia Association spokeswoman. Because the swan's face and neck were spared paint, the bird's health shouldn't be affected by the painting.

"I guess the birds got a little too used to people; it became a bit of a nuisance," said Dr. William J. L. Sladen, a wildlife researcher and retired Johns Hopkins University professor who heads up the swan research program at Airlie.

The swans that were moved to Airlie yesterday were part of his effort to reintroduce what are know as trumpeter swans to Maryland. Trumpeters are native to the Chesapeake region.

Once trumpeter swans could be found on the Chesapeake in large numbers. They were decimated for food, quills and feathers by settlers. Today, they are rare on Chesapeake Bay.

About 15,000 trumpeter swans remain in Canada, making them the rarest of North American waterfowl, Dr. Sladen said.

The trumpling swans are a hybrid of the trumpeter and the tundra swan. Dr. Sladen believes if he can get the trumplings to take hold in the Chesapeake region, trumpeters could follow.

New trumplings may be brought back to the lake in spring, he said.

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