Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 18, 2013

Swan strikes back, then disappears

BY ANNE STANTON astanton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — An aggressive mute swan disappeared from Silver Lake, but lakeside residents can’t get an answer from the state wildlife officials as to its whereabouts.

“If they’ve done something to that swan, I’m going to take it up their food chain,” said Chuck Fricke, a lakeside resident. “They’re supposed to be protecting the wildlife.”

Personal watercraft riders this summer harassed the male swan that stood guard over his mate and brood of three cygnets. The swan, in turn, chased any personal watercraft that drew near, and knocked a man off his machine. That led Silver Lake Improvement Association officials to call the local Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR discussed taking the male swan off the lake, but swan lovers wanted the agency to transfer the entire family.

“I don’t know if swans have hearts, but he’s been her mate for years,” said lake resident Marian Brady, who enjoyed watching the waterfowl.

The DNR countered that moving the whole family would require a public hearing, and some on the lake wanted quicker action.

Fricke fears a DNR official killed the bird despite his repeated phone calls and email offers to assist with the transfer of the swan family to a wildlife refuge. He heard nothing back; local DNR officials also did not return repeated phone calls for this article.

The DNR isn’t a fan of the graceful mute swans, brought to the states in the 1800s. They’re now considered an invasive species that displace native swans and ruin wetlands. The swans were in the news last year when Michigan officials asked residents to help shoot and kill 13,500 mute swans — about 90 percent of the population.

The swan’s disappearance on Silver Lake relieved some who feared the male swan might one day hurt someone, especially a child. But others suggested the swans were punished for the actions of thoughtless watercrafter users who taunted the male.

“I don’t think the male swan threatens anyone unless he feels that person is a threat to his family,” said lakeside resident Ann Krantz.

Scot Ogden, president of the lake association, feared for people’s safety. A few weeks ago, a man was knocked off his personal watercraft by the swan; he didn’t see him until the attack. A few days later, the swan hit his head from behind, he said.

The swan also went after an adult with a young child on a personal watercraft and the adult had to gun the machine to flee. The swan later pursued two teen girls on a personal watercraft, then went after a couple in a boat, but they shooed him away with an oar, Ogden said.

The association advised residents that harassing swans was a crime and to report offenders’ registration numbers to authorities. But citizen enforcement has been tricky. A woman saw a personal watercraft rider spray water on the male with its wake, so she climbed into a kayak and followed the rider home. Someone came out and threatened her with a lawsuit if she filed a report, Ogden said.

Brady said she’s watched the swan family for decades and wishes people had realized the impact of their harassment.

“On Saturday, there were two girls on a personal watercraft in the middle of the lake pointing to the male swan,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh no, they’re coming over.’ They drove over to him and he got agitated and puffed up. They still got closer and he flew after him. You could hear them laughing. It was obvious what they were doing.”

Fricke said if the swan wasn’t killed, there’s still a chance of reuniting the family.

“My offer still stands to transport them,” he said. “It’s a travesty to separate a mating pair.”