Researchers work to bring back swans COLUMBIA

April 30, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

Kirk Goolsby and Frank Standafer had a slight case of th jitters yesterday as they headed across Columbia's Wilde Lake on a skiff to swap a few swan eggs -- in the name of science, of course.

They were part of an unfolding plan to help reintroduce trumpeter swans to the Chesapeake region. The graceful birds once lived here in great numbers but were devastated by early settlers. Since then, other, more aggressive kinds of swans have taken their place.

The chief worry of Mr. Goolsby and Mr. Standafer yesterday was the potential ire of two trumpling swans, nicknamed Jim and Pattie, residing on the lake. They are the parents of the eggs the men planned to snatch. The birds have wingspans close to eight feet and are taller than full-grown geese. They pack a wallop.

"They can get really aggressive. I had one hit me on the hand with its wings once and it really hurt. I had a bad bruise for days," said Mr. Goolsby, who works for the Swan Research Center in Airlie, Va., which has assisted Columbia with establishing swans on its lakes.

Mr. Standafer, chief of lakes and special projects for the Columbia Association, which manages the city's facilities and open land areas, was along to assist Mr. Goolsby.

Luck or good timing was with the two men yesterday. The swan pair had retired momentarily to sun themselves on the banks of the lake as the men arrived in the skiff at a man-made hummock the Columbia Association designed for the swans.

Once at the hummock, the two men found in a nest seven trumpling eggs, brown pearly orbs a bit larger than baseballs. They gently placed the eggs, laid about two weeks ago, into a small thermal container warmed by a liquid pack. From another warm container they removed two swan eggs and placed them in the nest.

The eggs were those of trumpeter swans -- the type of swan which once graced the Chesapeake region -- laid by swans residing at the Swan Research Center in Virginia.

William J. L. Sladen, a wildlife researcher and retired Johns Hopkins University professor heading up the swan reintroduction effort, said Jim and Pattie should make good parents for the trumpeter swans.

While Jim and Patti are trumpling swans -- a cross of two other kinds of swans familiar to the Atlantic flyway -- Dr. Sladen said trumplings have proved to be more conscientious parents than trumpeter swans.

Dr. Sladen said the trumpling eggs collected yesterday will be taken to his research center. Some may later be donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, which has requested several for research.

Meanwhile, the nest and the progress of the young trumpeters when they hatch will be monitored by Charles "Chick" Rhodehamel, staff ecologist for the Columbia Association.

Yesterday was a busy day as well for the other resident swans of Wilde Lake and Lake Kittimaqundi, another Columbia lake. It was moving day.

Five other trumpling swans residing on Wilde Lake were rounded up in the early morning by Mr. Standafer and his staff, aided by members of the Columbia Waterfowl Committee, which assists the city with monitoring and caring for the lakes' swans.

The swans were weighed and banded for easy identification and then moved inside cages to a new haunt on Lake Kittimaqundi.

To make way for the trumplings, four mute swans that resided on Lake Kittimaqundi were rounded up Wednesday for transport to the Virginia research center. Mute swans are not native to the United States.

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