Swan hunters are wedging themselves into the Crooked River area this Sunday, carrying notepads and cameras instead of guns.
Swans have been a threatened species in North America for decades and part of their slow comeback is the annual swan count that provides government biologists and other scientists with field data on the picturesque birds. Prince George bird watchers and conservationists have this weekend circled on their calendars for this event, as they have for the past 40 or so years.
"It's done on Crooked River because it was noticed a long time ago that swans are frequently there," said Sandra Kinsey, one of the event organizers for the Prince George Naturalist Club. "They would be there because there are cold springs on the river keeping parts of it open all year round. My favourite temperature for doing the count is minus-20 because it reduces the places that are open so you often see more swans in those concentrated areas."
Global warming has shown its effects in the annual swan count, said Kinsey. Whereas it was common to see as many as 60 during the one-day count, they dropped down as low as 18 in 2010 and are hovering in the 20s now. There was a bit of an upsurge last year when the counters tallied 30 adults and six springlings at Crooked River. Counters were also out at the Nautley River where the results were 30 and seven, plus 37 and 13 noted at the upstream end of the Nechako River.
"We give the numbers to Rick Howie, a consulting biologist in Kamloops, who collates it for all the different counts going on in the north and the interior and he sends it to the Canadian Wildlife Service, which is an arm of Environment Canada," said Kinsey. "We also give the numbers to the local biologists with the provincial government. There are periodic reports summarizing the surveys, so the public can use that information."
While it isn't known exactly why the numbers have dropped on the Crooked River, it is generally believed from complementary information that warmer winter weather has allowed the flocks to spread out over a much wider range, not having to rely as heavily on the year-round open spots on the river north of Prince George.
The Prince George area has had one confirmed sighting of a tundra or whistler swan during the Crooked River count over the years. The rest have all been trumpeter swans. Kinsey said she was curious to see if, in connection to changing climate, more tundra swans are in the mix in the years ahead.
Anyone wishing to join this year's bevy of swan watchers is asked to meet no later than 9 a.m. Sunday at the large Spruceland Shopping Centre sign. Car pooling will be arranged at the gathering point. All are encouraged to bring your own snowshoes, but a few spare pairs will be available for those without.
For further information contact Kinsey at sjkin...@direct.ca or at 963-8381.