Hail the trumpeters, part II: Second swan batch hatches

For the second time in three weeks, a pair of imported trumpeter swans have hatched cygnet babies along the Deschutes River in Bend, while the first ones have doubled in size and appear well on their way to survival, a state biologist said Friday.

The three cygnets that apparently hatched on Wednesday below the First Street Rapids along the Deschutes River Trail may have a brother or sister waiting to come along, as the female might be incubating another egg, said Chris Carey, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.

Dave Ledder, vice president of the Central Oregon Audubon Society, snapped some photos of the city’s newest trumpeter swan family Thursday. “The parents were very busy, stirring up the water with their feet to bring up food from the bottom for the young,” he said.

If the fourth egg does indeed hatch, that cygnet would be “a few days younger than the others,” Carey said. “That’s probably typical of a first-time nesting female, they are not quite as synchronized” as more experienced mothers.

The baby swans born back on June 7 on Mirror Pond are “doing fine, except a lot of folks are feeding them bread,” Ledder said. Only three of the four cygnets hatched in that nest survived the first few days of life; officials said the other might have fallen prey to a predator.

The Mirror Pond survivors are “doing quite well,” Carey said Friday. “They are growing – they’re about the size of a mallard right now, so they have probably doubled in size in three weeks. So they have kind of gotten past the first step here.”

“We now have 10 trumpeter swans on the river,” Carey said – a great sign of success for a program aimed at replacing the non-native, aggressive mute swans with native trumpeter swans.

Please don’t feed the swans – especially moldy bread, biologist says

The ODFW biologist did express some concern about well-meaning folks feeding the swans bread.

“Moldy bread can be hazardous to waterfowl,” Carey said, instead urging people to feed them cracked corn, available at most feed and seed stores.

“We would prefer that people not feed them,” he said. “Unfortunately, they have turned into little beggars.” And don’t expect mama or papa to curb the trend, Carey said: “Unfortunately, the parents are almost encouraging it. They recognize a sack of bread and come up closer” to shore.

The circle of life is on display all year long at such special spots as Mirror Pond, beside Drake Park. But almost unnoticed amid the pre-summer Frisbee tossing, sunning and dog chasing three weeks ago was a small, bright white and historic sight, gliding by a ways out on the rippled blue water: a pair of proud, parental trumpeter swans and their tiny new offspring.

It’s a first for Bend – and perhaps, for any U.S. city, in terms of trumpeter swans being born in an urban park setting.

While one of the four cygnets apparently didn’t survive its first week of life, possibly due to predators, the hatchings believed to have happened June 7 at a nest on an island in the Deschutes mark a significant milestone in efforts stretching back almost a decade to bring native trumpeter swans to the stretch of river, eventually acing out the non-native, aggressive and problematic mute swans.

There still were three apparently healthy cygnets in view five days later, when officials held a pondside news conference on the hatchings.

Bend pioneer Clyde McKay (for whom McKay Park is named) no doubt had little idea of the problems that would arise in later years when, back in 1929, he released the first mute swan into the pond, as a Kiwanis Club project. Sixty-five years later, the tally was up to a dozen adult swans, 19 “sub-adults” (1 to 3 years in age) and two dozen cygnets, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Chris Carey.

And by the mid-`90s, there was a serious concern about the overpopulation of the territorial mute swans, which “were being aggressive to people,” according to Carey, and also were starving due to inadequate food supply, according to Dave Ledder, vice president of the Central Oregon Audubon Society.

“But the big concern,” Carey said, was that “a winter die-off of significant magnitude would force the birds out of the Mirror Pond area, and we would be establishing a feral population, nesting elsewhere. There is a state law that prohibits (establishment) of non-native wildlife.”

Waterfowl panel’s recommendations were tried, to varying success

Ledder said the Audubon Society wrote to Bend Metro Park and Rec District Executive Director Carrie Whitaker, saying that the swan issue needed addressing, along with the Canada geese (and their droppings), the ducks, etc. A waterfowl advisory committee was created, and along with occasional “goose roundups” and the like, the idea of replacing non-native mute swans with native trumpeter swans was hatched – though not without some consternation on the part of some residents along the pond.

“There were some real angry neighbors along the river,” many of whom considered the mute swans a special part of their home’s setting, Ledder recalled, but “as soon as they understood, now they have adopted the trumpeter” swans as well.

Most of the mute swans were individually trapped or caught, then pinioned (surgery to keep them from flying). The males got vasectomies, while “with the females, we’ve experimented around with things,” in terms of birth control, Carey said.

As a result, there are now just seven mute swans around Mirror Pond, including two infertile pairs that are sitting on infertile eggs. “They still lay eggs and do everything” they had before, the biologist explained. “They kind of had to do that. If you take the eggs out too soon, they just re-lay them.”

Two pairs of trumpeter swans were brought to the pond and released in 1999, purchased from a private breeder in Port Washington, Wis., Carey said.

“For this particular pair, this is the first season they have nested,” the ODFW biologist said. “They probably would have last year, but we kind of changed their territory. We moved them up above the Colorado (Avenue) bridge, hoping they would nest there, but they came back down” to the point. That also caused “a major shift in the territories” of the mute swans – quite the “upheaval,” Carey said, but now, the “balance is restored.”

One cygnet apparently gone: You could call it `Survivor: Swan Island’

When Carey snapped some pictures of the new family the Monday after their birth, four cygnets were in view, but only three could be seen the next day.

“Mortality is fairly high on young cygnets,” the ODFW biologist said. “If they can make it through the first couple of weeks, that’s the critical time.”

Ledder said it’s possible a mink or an otter got one of the cygnets as they sat curled up during the night. It’s also possible that one of the mute swans got to the little one: “If it got near one of those young, they could grab them and break their neck.” Ledder said it might be necessary to temporarily remove a pair of mutes and place them in a holding area.

“They will grow amazingly fast,” Ledder said, “You can almost see them grow before your eyes.”

“The natural predators, there’s not much we can do,” he said. “Survival of the fittest – we’re not going to interfere with that.”

“To establish these trumpeter swans on the river, we think it’s the first time they have been raised within a city park,” Carey said. “I’m not really aware of anywhere else in the country (that’s been done). Most has been on private ponds” and the like.

Biologists, bird-lovers even helped with shortage of nesting material

Ledder expressed some concern that a “possible down side of all of this attention … is that people will want to see them up close and feed them, in order to bring them to the shore for a better look. This could be very disastrous for the young.”

The Audubon Society official urged people who want to see the swans not to feed them or get too close with canoes or kayaks.

Feeding the waterfowl is against a city ordinance, he said, “though not strictly enforced, and can be deadly to the birds. … Also, feeding the birds brings in predators and distracts the adult trumpeter swans from their young, which could lead to their death.” Ledder also warned that amid the “territorial disputes between the mutes and trumpeters … the feeding could open up the opportunity for the mutes to kill the cygnets.”

Nature also got a bit of a boost from man once more after the trumpeters established something of a makeshift nest on an island in the river, north of the Galveston Avenue Bridge. “There was a shortage of nesting material on the island, so we got some cattails, leaves dumped on” the spot, and the swans apparently made use of at least some of it, Carey said.

“This is an amazing thing,” Ledder said, “and a lot of people don’t know,” even if they look out across the water and see the swans. “This is possibly the start of a really good thing that could happen along the river.” The birdwatcher told of a cute moment the other day, when he was down snapping pictures and “one of the little cygnets chased a mallard away.”

“Mute swans do really well in these park-like situations,” he said. “They are tough and multiply. But they are huge problems – back East, they have wiped out vegetation, pushed out native species. … The trumpeters are a little more skittish, and don’t do as well in urban areas. So this is a real success. We’re lucky we have this spot in the river.”

The problem of waterfowl droppings hasn’t been an easy one to resolve. Keeping the geese in the water has involved tries at hazing, even a barking dog over the past few years. “Eventually, the geese were pretty smart,” Ledder said. “as soon as the truck pulled up, red or whatever in color, the geese just moved off the lawn. So I thought, maybe they should just park a truck there.”

So the effort to improve the habitat and interaction with the birds and prevent overpopulation has had mixed success, the Audubon official said.

“But being in the city, with so much human impact – be it the Cascade Festival of Music, the fireworks going off, there being a lot more kayakers than there used to be – it’s amazing they are surviving and doing as well as they do.”

Don’t feed the ducks – well, too much, anyway

“I think a lot of it is, people live down there on the river,” Ledder said. While there have been efforts to keep people from feeding the ducks and geese, it’s a tradition that’s hard to stop – and one Ledder isn’t sure is as harmful as some bird-lovers might fear.

“We found some feeding with swans is helpful,” he said. “There’s a good mix you can feed them, that helps with shell development.”

But what of the old-fashioned, long-time tradition of bread cast out to ducks by young and old? Even Ledder admitted that, shortly after “don’t feed the ducks” signs went up, some friends came to town and had a request – so they bought some bread, went down to the park and, well, were something of wildlife scofflaws for a time.

“I don’t think it does them a lot of harm,” he said, but he added, “Old, moldy bread is not healthy for us or birds.”




Source: The Bend Bugle ©2002

Royal return: Teens vie for revived Water Pageant’s crowns

Ten teen-agers who just might restore a cynic’s faith in the “species” have been chosen to represent Deschutes County’s five high schools and vie for the queen’s and king’s crowns in a new feature of the revived, second annual Bend Water Pageant.

Nine of the 10 students, all from the Class of 2002, met with reporters and each other for the first time Wednesday morning at Pioneer Park (Justin Little of Sisters High was at work, alas). None appeared shy or embarrassed to be wearing the kind of satin sashes long associated with beauty pageants, and instead expressed pride in a chance to represent their school and promote an event they had known little or nothing about before.

The Bend Youth Crew, which puts on the event with coordinator Ethel Stratton of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, turned to teachers and counselors in a bid to find students to nominate for the honor. Criteria included character, a grade-point average of at least 2.5, participation in sports or the arts, community service/involvement and leadership qualities.

In a year of proclaimed drought across much of the state, it’s somewhat fitting that the Water Pageant court was named in one of Bend’s rainiest weeks in months – but that the sun shone through Wednesday as the participants lined up for photos and instructions from Stratton.

“We could not have been more blessed,” she said.

Unlike most events around the region, there are no corporate sponsors for the Water Pageant. Instead, it is the signature fund-raiser for the Victims Assistance Program of Deschutes County. The state-mandated program, overseen by the district attorney’s office, is the sole recipient of all proceeds from the event.

Judges will pick pageant king and queen; but don’t call them princes or princesses

A panel of judges, including local business people, will choose a king and queen from among the 10 teens to reign over the festivities, scheduled for Aug. 13-19. Last summer, the Water Pageant was successfully revived after a 35-year absence, featuring a newly built, giant swan float on Mirror Pond and the theme, “Rediscover the Spirit.” This year’s theme: “2001: A Water Odyssey.”

The members of the court are: Erik Berglund and Kat Leatherwood of Bend High; Joe Meredith and Mari Hickman of Mountain View High; Shane Van Matre and Kara Rasmussen of Redmond High; Brian Collins and Shandi Isaccson of LaPine High; and Justin Little and Jamie Cundiff of Sisters High.

Note that, while any of them 10 may be crowned Water Festival king or queen in August, they are not referred to in the meantime as princes or princesses, only as members of the court. Stratton noted that even the Portland Rose Festival has dropped the historic moniker of princesses, in favor of “ambassadors.” The royal element isn’t what’s stressed, she said, but that the young people “are representatives of their communities and the school.”

The Water Pageant court will march in the July 4th parade in Redmond and a similar event in La Pine on July 7, and also will make civic appearances before such bodies as the county commission and city councils.

Cundiff said she’s done community service projects before, but “not on a citywide basis” like her new role. Berglund said the first word each participant got was a phone call in which Stratton identified herself as being with the sheriff’s office. “So she scared us,” he joked.

The original Bend Water Pageant, begun in the 1930s, also had its queens (no kinds), and Stratton said it was “a very political” affair. Businesses, such as the sawmills and insurance companies, would select a girl and sponsor her in the event. “Then they had to sell tickets,” she said, “and the one who sold the most tickets was named queen.”

Scholarships may be in event’s future; parade, walk/run added this year

The old saw about the Miss America contest is that it isn’t a beauty pageant, it’s a scholarship competition. And Stratton said the Water Pageant organizers are looking for assistance with the idea that perhaps the court members, or just the king and queen, also could win scholarships. (The court will grow to an even dozen next year, after Summit High School opens, she said.)

The Water Pageant again will include some popular events from last year’s revival, including a downtown barbecue and old West shootout, the Saturday morning “gravity drags” soap box races, a tea and fashion show, “queen’s ball” (family dance) and a family picnic Sunday afternoon at Drake Park.

But there are new elements this year as well, including a 5K run/walk on Sunday morning, and a Friday night twilight parade, for which the event organizers are seeking participants, from musicians to clowns or jugglers. Contact Stratton at 388-6659 or estratton@yahoo.com .

Source: The Bend Bugle ©2001

Reborn Bend Water Pageant floats gracefully into view

Lots of great things fade from view over time — but they all aren’t necessarily gone forever. Witness the past week’s return of a 30-year summer tradition that vanished 35 years ago – the Bend Water Pageant.

Hundreds of residents have taken part in or observed a wide variety of events, from an English tea and historic fashion show to a downtown Wild West shootout, an ice cream social and the biggest event of all — literally — the debut of a 20-foot-tall, 30-foot-long, 3-ton swan floating gracefully upon Mirror Pond, to the cheers of onlookers and the curiosity of its smaller feathered friends.

The attendance has been fairly light at some events, but Ethel Stratton, who led an army of volunteers that brought the pageant back to life, seemed happy with the results Friday as she busily prepared for a junior-senior intergenerational prom and Saturday’s final events: soapbox-style “gravity drag” races, an afternoon social at the Pine Tavern and the grand finale, a music and light show as the swan floats across Mirror Pond, carrying a bevy of past pageant queens and princesses. (Fire danger has prompted a scrubbing of a planned fireworks show.)

“It’s doing just what we hoped,” Stratton said of the event. “It’s gathering the community together.”

Blindfolds kept swan building site ‘secret’

A pair of reporters were briefly blindfolded a couple of weeks ago – more as a gesture, since the clues were obvious – as they were led into a large east Bend shop where the biggest single rebirth of the entire week-long event, the big swan, was being built by dozens of volunteers, young and old.

The first “River Pageant” was held in 1933, as a few University of Oregon graduates returned to their hometown and recalled Eugene’s canoe celebrations. The first pageant had a few small floats with pretty girls on them, drifting down the river as a few thousand people looked on. The very next year, the festival included 19 floats, a 48-foot-tall arch with elaborate lighting system, and over 12,000 people in attendance. By 1965, the year of the last Water Pageant, close to 20,000 residents and visitors were taking part, as local businesses and organizations designed and built floats and provided volunteers and donations.

Why did the long tradition die then? A variety of reasons, said Stratton, who has led the organizing of the revived Water Pageant as a fund-raiser for the Deschutes County Victims Assistance Foundation. The costs of the mid-’60s event were rising, and some neighbors complained of the impact on their private property (shades of the Drake Park/Munch and Music debates decades later). There also were relatively few hotel or motel rooms at the time to house the influx of visitors. But there also was another element, as Stratton has learned – “there were streakers” (years ahead of the ’70s fad) who apparently decided the big show was a good time to show off their own natural features.

The new pageant is a “first annual,” in a way. The focus is on a series of events that build a sense of community connections, Stratton said – from Monday’s ice cream social (Ben and Jerry’s, in typical fashion, donated 5,000 servings) to Tuesday’s cowboy poetry and chuckwagon BBQ, Wednesday’s “proper tea” and vintage fashion show, Friday’s junior/senior intergenerational prom and Saturday’s “gravity drag” race of kid/parent built soapbox style cars on Revere Avenue (an event not sanctioned by the Soapbox Derby this year, but that’s expected in 2001).

Swan builders race the clock

Volunteers raced the clock in hopes the floating swan would be ready to unveil Monday evening, but logistics and other issues pushed the debut back three days. A late, short shipment of foam that forms much of the swan’s shape pushed them back, but long hours were catching things up, said designer Peter Gramlich and project leader Dave Abramson, a juvenile counselor with Deschutes County’s Juvenile Justice Department.

“I think what has surprised me more than anything else are people who were saying, ‘You must be joking’ when we first hatched the idea,” Stratton said, “and now they are as enthusiastic as anyone and pitching right in.” Unlike the panoply of fund-raisers held around the year in Central Oregon, the Water Pageant is billed as a “sponsor-free” event – “we want it to be owned by the community,” Stratton said, so there’s no big banners or signs for each firm or person donating goods, services or money.

The funds are being raised in a variety of ways, from charging for the food and events to $5 brass swan pins, $12 T-shirts, $30 posters and $50 handcrafted miniature swans. An original Jennifer Lake Miller painting that combines images of the past and present Water Pageant activities will be auctioned off, as will a larger carved wooden swan and 14K gold swan pin.

The various events were detailed in the Web site at http://www.bendwaterpageant.com . The 12-member Bend Youth Council has played a key role in making several of the events happen. “It’s all exciting,” said Joan Hamby, an 18-year-old Mountain View High graduate.

The connection between this year’s pageant, wih its theme of “Rediscover the Spirit,” and the Victims Assistance Foundation isn’t hard for Stratton to espouse. “If we’re more connected to the community and to our neighbors, the impact (is that) crime is reduced,” she said. Stratton also hopes it will bring more locals to enjoy downtown shops: “It’s not just a tourist town,” she said. Former county commissioner Nancy Schlangen, director of the Victims’ Assistance Program, said “we want as many as locals as possible to participate” in the wide variety of events.

State Soapbox champ father/sons help new generation

Saturday’s events begin with the “Bend Gravity Drag” races of eight soapbox-style racers down the gentle hill on Revere Avenue between Eighth and Fourth streets. Two state-champion Soap Box Derby cars are on display at Jim Smolich Motors, thanks to brothers Matt and Brian Carlson of Bend and their dad, Ken Carlson, of Prineville. All three, along with Ken’s daughter, have been state Soap Box champions, when they lived in Boring, and all got to race in the national event at Akron, Ohio. The huge trophies up for grabs in this year’s inaugural event shine in the dealer’s display case.

“Big Brother” Richard Benson of Tumalo, a chiropractor by trade, was helping his “Little Brother,” 8-year-old Brandon Tovar, get to work on a car in the Jim Smolich service garage the other night. Another participant will be Luke Smolich, the car dealer’s 12-year-old and mechanically inclined grandson. “I’ve been around cars all my life,” the youngster said with authority, anxious to test out a car that weighs 250 pounds, rides 3 inches off the asphalt and can travel at speeds of 35 mph.

Meanwhile, out at the – well, we can’t say where – the new-generation swan took shape. In a fitting twist, Mountain View High student Ryan Moss, 15, suggested by his teacher for his computer-aided design proficiency, also found the fiberglass-reinforced composite deck and rail system used for the 10-by-20-foot base – on the Internet. “It’s http://www.ezdeck.com,” he said with a smile.

Old swan, plans gone, so started from scratch

The old swan, which the queen and princess rode on, apparently was lost in a fire and the original plans were never located, despite extensive searching. So Gramlich said he spent hours photographing swans in Drake Park before turning to a computer for creation of the detailed sketches. Everyone involved held their breath recently when the base, complete with 2,000 pounds of steel, had a test float on a private pond – and by gum, it floated, with only some minor adjustments to be made.

The task has been more daunting, and technical, than first thought, so at-risk youngsters in the “restorative justice” program weren’t involved in the early stages. They were able to help with later stages, layering the concrete polymer that will make up the 34-foot-long swan’s final surface, before painting. The head and neck are detachable, allowing the swan to make it under the 14 ½-foot railroad underpass en route to Drake Park.

One other big difference from the original swans – most were built as stage props, so they could only be viewed from one side, much like the fake storefronts of low-budget early Westerns, Abramson and Gramlich said. The young queen used to ride on the large swan, followed by princesses on smaller cygnet craft. A half-dozen of the original queens, including 84-year-old Bend native Lois May Gumpert, serve at the honorary court for this year’s revived pageant. During a music and light show, they will ride in the swan, propelled by members of the county Search and Rescue Unit’s high-water rescue team. That’s right — “swan divers.”

Abramson said that despite the lost time for fishing or relaxing, the long hours everyone is putting in were worth it. “It’s so important to the community – that’s my adrenaline rush,” he said. For welder Jeremy Lewis, it also was simple: “Its seemed like a fun thing to do.” Or as Abramson said, “It’s been a lot of fun – and a lot of headaches.”

Source: Bend.com ©2000

Feds may shut Bend hydro dam

The powerhouse at Mirror Pond may be closed for good. The Bulletin/Lyle Cox
The powerhouse at Mirror Pond may be closed for good. The Bulletin/Lyle Cox

Federal regulators expect to recommend shutting down the hydroelectric dam that created Bend’s Mirror Pond 80 years ago.

Their reason: Another federal agency won’t budge on a requirement for costly fish screens and ladders.

Last fall the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a draft environmental assessment that recommended a new 50-year license for Pacific Power to operate the 560-foot-wide dam that formed the famed 40-acre reservoir on the Deschutes River.

However, the agency refused to require fish screens. It suggested a fish ladder would not be needed for at least a decade.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stuck to its guns, however. So FERC official John Clements now told officials from the utility and city that the final recommendation, due out this summer, will change.

“Our preliminary assessment of the comment letters shows that we’ll probably be recommending project retirement,” he wrote.

The fish screens and ladder being sought  by Fish and Wildlife would cost an estimated $1.8 million. Other improvements would run the tab up to as much as $5.7 million.

If it comes to that, Pacific Power would rather just shut the plant down, at an estimated cost of $1.7 million, according to the company’s local manager, Clark Satre.

Decommissioning a hydro dam raises a whole new set of questions, many of which have never been faced, officials say.

The biggest question: Who will take over the site once the turbines are stilled, and who would fund maintenance and possible improvements, such as a long-discussed powerhouse museum?

Utility officials met this week with local and state officials, biologists and fishery groups. There discussion about pursuit of government grants for preservation of historic buildings and flood control.

Another issue: how to fund periodic dredging of the pond to remove siltation. The last such dredging was done a decade ago at a cost of about $300,000.

Source: The Bulletin ©1994

Agencies urge big look at little dam

Three governments with a stake in the fate of Mirror Pond are trying to convince federal decision-makers that a Bend hydroelectric project’s impact far outweighs it size.

In a joint submission being sent to Washington. D.C., today the city of Bend, Deschutes County and the Bend Metro Park and Recreation District are urging the Federal Energy· Regulatory Commission lo hold a local hearing on Pacific Power’s downtown hydro dam.

The company is seeking renewal of a 30·year license to operate the dam. The three entities want FERC to require a full environmental impact study. which could cost the company as much as $2 million.

They say such expense is warranted. even though the 83·year·old plant powers fewer than 500 homes and meets just 1 percent of Bend’s power needs. They want a chance to make their case in Bend.

The hydro project created Mirror Pond, which the local governments describe in their letter as a 40-acre Deschutes River reservoir that has become “a focal point of the community.”

Conservation groups, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Interior Department also have intervened. They are raising safety and environmental issues.

The local governments say Pacific Power “has not responded to these issues in any meaningful way.”

Their concerns· include the dam’s structural integrity and the effectiveness of on inflatable rubber tube. called a “crest.” that the company proposes to install along the top of the dam to prevent ice blockages.

Silt buildup caused by the dam is a major problem requiring periodic costly removal, they say. They cite one case in which a child became stuck waist-deep in silt.

Manv of the issues. such as ways to aid Deschutes river fish passage, need to be addressed even if the dam’s turbines are removed, the governments contend.

Duane Blackwelder, a Pacific Power employee, told city commissioners Wednesday that they could cut dredging costs by using a log to sweep the channel and pull up silt. He also raised a fairness issue, saying other dams along the river have escaped similar scrutiny because they don’t generate power.

Commissioner John Wujack responded, “We only have this opportunity for the next 30 years to improve this fish passage.”

Mayor Terry Blackwell said, “We didn’t say they have to dredge the pond, but to address the issue.”

Clark Satre, the company’s regional manager, said the agencies’ request for a larger study “implies that there have been no environmental studies or consideration, and that’s not tho case.”

The cost of energy from the plant, figured over a 30·year period, comes to 3.6 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to an estimated 4.7 cent cost for replacement power, Satre said.

He said, “One could argue that’s so small a difference, and so small a project, why would you worry about it? On the other hand, every resource is important as power demands increase.”

Source: The Bulletin ©1993