The trumpeter swans seem to be spreading out in Arkansas.
The majestic birds have become a tourist attraction at a little lake east of Heber Springs, but they have been spotted this winter in a half-dozen or so other areas of the state.
Privately owned Magness Lake, an old oxbow off the Little Red River, has been used by wintering trumpeters for more than two decades and has a hundred-plus swans again this year.
This concentration has concerned wildlife biologists and birders – too many of a good thing in one spot. The situation may be changing, at least a little.
Three young trumpeters have spent the winter close to a busy freeway in Fayetteville. A few were spotted in Harrison. Others have been seen near Beaverfork Lake just north of Conway at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge near Dardanelle and in northeastern Arkansas near Pocahontas. These are in addition to two living year-round in Boxley Valley in western Newton County.
The Boxley swans are the result of a three-year experimental project to entice swans to migrate from Iowa to Arkansas. Young swans were brought from the northern state and put out at Boxley and Holla Bend with the hopes they would migrate back north and bring additional swans to Arkansas in the winter – but not to Magness Lake.
Most of these young swans went back north and haven’t been seen in Arkansas again. The pair of Boxley birds apparently liked their Arkansas home and did not bother with a return to Iowa.
Restoration projects have increased the numbers of swans in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ontario, and occasionally marked swans are in the winter group at Magness Lake. The markers are usually traced to birds from Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Trumpeters are the largest members of the swan family. They have black bills and noses, with a faint red or salmon-colored line along the edge of their bill. In contrast, the more numerous tundra swans, formally called whistling swans, are smaller and have yellow dots on each side of their bills. Mute swans, not natives of North America but descendants of escapees from zoos and parks, have orange bills with black knobs at the upper base. All of these swans are rare in Arkansas.
Magness Lake covers about 30 acres. It and the surrounding area are privately owned, with locked gates. But visitors can easily view the swans from a public road, with parking space available in an S curve of the road.
Visitors should feed only shelled corn to the swans. Bread, chips and other items could be harmful to them.
To reach the swans and Magness Lake, drive east on Arkansas Highway 110 from its intersection with Arkansas Highways 5 and 25 just east of Heber Springs. Go 3.9 miles from the intersection to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, marked with a white sign. Turn left on paved Hays Road. Magness Lake is about a half-mile down this road.
Persons seeing swans of any species in Arkansas are asked to note the exact location of collared swans, and write down the number and letter code on the collar, if any, and send that information to Karen Rowe of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock.