Herbert H. Hutchinson, 88, waterfowl activist

July 09, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Herbert Handel Hutchinson, who was known in recent years as the Swan Man of Hoopers Island for his love of waterfowl and efforts to block the government-backed killing of mute swans, died of pneumonia July 2 at Chesapeake Woods Center in Cambridge. He was 88.

With his ruddy complexion and white hair, Mr. Hutchinson looked more like a kindly Norman Rockwell figure than an outspoken and determined activist.

During the 1980s and 1990s while living in Duxbury, Mass., Mr. Hutchinson caused consternation among local officials when he violated a ban on feeding waterfowl in local ponds.

He feared that the harsh New England winters would kill his beloved birds if he didn't feed them. "Why should I sit around and let them die?" he told The Patriot Ledger newspaper in 1996,

His move in 1996 to Hoopers Island in Dorchester County to move in with his daughter and son-in-law made headlines in Massachusetts, but the articles there didn't note that he had taken one of his favorite Duxbury swans with him.

"He took a swan he named One Eye because it had been injured by some kids, loaded it aboard his car and drove it to Maryland, where he released it," said daughter Linda L. Frase of Fishing Creek, his only survivor.

It wasn't long before Mr. Hutchinson was again challenging state and federal officials on waterfowl issues, this time their desire to reduce the mute swan population at the Eastern Shore's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The swans, a non-native species from Europe that escaped from captivity decades ago and multiplied, feed on delicate underwater grasses that support crabs, small fish and other marine life. State officials also said the swans were overrunning nests of least terns and black skimmers, two endangered Eastern Shore bird species.

"He has always been a nature freak and had something of a special connection with swans. He could go right up to them and they wouldn't flee. And when they were nesting, he'd camp out and make sure their eggs weren't disturbed," Mrs. Frase said.

"He fought state Department of Natural Resources' killing of swans because, he said, they lived for 50 years and mated for life. `Killing them would be like killing a relative,'" she said.

"He was just a naturalist at heart who had an affection for wildlife," said Frank A. Bittner, a friend from Hurlock.

"I'd see him at 5 a.m. walking the beach with a 10-pound bag of corn, illegally feeding the swans. He loved the argument that swans treading on the nests of birds broke their eggs. He countered with the argument that the ponies at Assateague also tread on nesting birds and we don't kill them," Mr. Bittner said.

Mr. Hutchinson was appointed to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's mute swan advisory task force, where he continued to oppose killing the birds.

"They are wild animals, and they have the right to live free," Mr. Hutchinson told The Sun in 1997.

Mr. Hutchinson was born and raised in Quincy, Mass. He found work as a machinist and did other odd jobs until the late 1950s, when he moved to San Bernardino, Calif., and opened a recording studio that was destroyed in a fire.

"He recorded Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and others from those days before they hit the big time," his daughter said.

Throughout his life, Mr. Hutchinson had a love for the open road and the excitement that lay around the next bend.

"He was 54 when he bought his first motorcycle, a black BMW, and when he did that, he discovered freedom. It was nothing for him to take off for three or seven months at a time. He'd ride across country and through Canada. One time he rode 100,000 miles," said Mrs. Frase, often his only companion.

His first wife died, and he was divorced from the second. His daughter was 5 years old when he won a custody suit against her mother, whom he hadn't married, she said.

Father and daughter toured Europe, Alaska, Central and South America together.

"He'd take me out of school and off we'd go," Mrs. Frase said.

Despite failing health during his last year, Mr. Hutchinson remained interested in the swans that waddled up behind the home in search of corn.

Services are private.

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