With most of the river now frozen over, trumpeter swans have either flown south or found refuge in places where the water stays open. The outlet of the Willow River in Hudson is well-known for winter swan watching.
I stopped by this morning and found a few dozen of the big birds – the largest waterfowl in North America, with wingspans from six to eight feet – resting on the ice, welcoming another winter morning. I walked slowly toward them, and then ducked behind a big cottonwood to make the minute-long video below.
Almost extinct 50 years ago, the swans are making a real comeback, delighting people who see them flying and floating all year long. Hopefully this year, none of the elegant birds will succumb to the poisoning that has killed several each winter. The swans can easily eat lead fishing tackle in the water, which is toxic to most life.
“That bottom has to be virtually covered with lead,” Barry Wallace, a Hudson resident who has been a volunteer swan monitor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for 23 years, told the Star Tribune last year. “This is one of the most popular fishing spots on the whole river. We’ve all fished it, all of our lives.”
Lead shot was banned in the 1990s, but fishing sinkers are still made with it. Anglers are urged to use alternative materials, such as tungsten.
And everyone is urged to head to Hudson to watch and listen to the majestic swans and their unique music.