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Festival of Birds: Henderson to highlight 25 years of swans

Carrol Henderson helped restore the trumpeter swam to Minnesota. He will be speaking about history of the 25-year-old restoration project at this year's Festival of Birds.

It was 25 years ago this summer that 21 trumpeter swans were taken by a military transport plane from Carlos Avery National Wildlife Refuge near Stacey, Minn., to their new home on the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge near Rochert.

That marked the first release of the swan restoration project that would become one of Minnesota's biggest wildlife success stories -- and Carrol Henderson was one of the people who helped revive the once-depleted population of this majestic bird in Minnesota.

"I wrote the original trumpeter swan restoration plan for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources back in 1981," Henderson says.

"We did the original release in Jim's Marsh near the Tamarac Refuge headquarters, and additional releases at other wetlands throughout the Refuge, in 1987.

"We had upwards of 200 to 300 people come out to the refuge for those first releases," he added.

Since then, "we've had an absolutely wonderful response of the swans," Henderson said, noting that approximately 362 swans have been released into the wild over the 25 years of the program.

After the first breeding in 1988, only one egg was successfully hatched -- but the numbers have slowly grown until today, Minnesota has more than 600 nesting pairs of swans and roughly 6,000 birds scattered across the state, Henderson said.

Tamarac Refuge alone has upwards of 30 successful nesting pairs, Henderson said, and "they keep expanding every year."

"The funding for the whole project was derived from the donations people make through the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff on their state tax forms," Henderson said.

"We (the DNR) get almost $1 million a year from that, for projects throughout Minnesota, and over the course of 25 years, we spent about $500,000 to bring back this species -- which is now self sustaining," he added.

Henderson will be in Detroit Lakes next week to talk about the history of the swan restoration project -- from how the trumpeter swan population all but disappeared in Minnesota at the end of the 19th century, to the earliest beginnings of the restoration project in the 1980s and the swans' successful comeback in the present day.

He is the opening speaker for the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds, which kicks off Thursday, May 17 and continues through Sunday, May 20.

Earlier in the day, however, Henderson will be at the Detroit Lakes Library for a special presentation on "Oology and Ralph's Talking Eggs: A History of Bird Conservation in North America," starting at 12:30 p.m. This free presentation is co-sponsored by Becker County Friends of the Library and the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce.

Festival schedule

That evening, Henderson will present the program "Celebrating Swans" as part of Thursday's kickoff celebration at Tamarac Refuge, which begins with a 5:30 p.m. dinner, served picnic-style.

The dinner and presentation by Henderson will be followed by a "Dance of the Woodcock" outdoor evening presentation from wildlife researcher Kyle Daly, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Friday's events will include field trips to Seven Sisters Prairie & Glacial Lakes State Park as well as Balmoral Golf Course & Glendalough State Park.

These will be followed by an Early Bird Social featuring wine tasting at Richwood Winery near Callaway, from 4 to 5 p.m.; and a dinner and program at Callaway's Maplelag Resort featuring naturalist Paula Grieef on birding hotspot Oak Hammock Marsh, north of Winnipeg along the Pine to Prairie International Birding Trail. The dinner starts at 5:30 p.m.

Saturday's Festival of Birds slate begins with field trips to Hamden Slough, Tamarac Refuge, Frazee School's 240-acre forest and Detroit Lakes' Sucker Creek Preserve. The trips all embark from the parking lot of M State College.

Starting at 11 a.m., M State will host a Birders' Bazaar, free mini-workshops, silent auction and presentations and an evening dinner and program featuring John Marzluff on the similarities between human beings and birds of the corvid family -- ravens, crows, magpies and jays.

More field trips take place on Sunday, May 20, to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge starting at 5 a.m., and the Ulen Prairie & White Wind Preserve, starting at 5:30. Both tours leave from the M State parking lot, and will return at approximately 2 p.m.

Registration for the Festival of Birds is available online at the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce website, through this Friday, May 11. A complete program of festival events is also available for download.

You can also call the Chamber at 218-847-9202 or 800-542-3992 (toll free) for more information.

Follow reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454