While visiting Findlay Reservoir 1, Roy Essinger photographed a large, graceful bird drifting near the shore, sending the picture to me for evaluation. What Roy spotted was one of Ohio’s two nesting species of swans: a mute swan. The other is the trumpeter swan.

The mutes are easy to recognize: Their orange bill with black “facial edge” and snow-white feathers are a giveaway. When at rest, they’ll usually hold their necks in an S-curve unless alerted by a possible threat, in which case it will extend it to look for danger.

You would think that whoever gave the mute swan its name did so because it was mute. Nope, it’s actually got quite a vocabulary. They’ll hiss, bugle and offer a variety of other sounds. Even when they keep their beak shut, they produce a loud humming from their primary flight feathers as they wing over the landscape.

Mute swans originated in Europe and have always been popular for their graceful beauty, often being protected by royal decree. They were brought to North America in the late 1800s with the intent of beautifying our landscapes and wetlands. Before long, birds escaped captivity and feral populations were established as populations expanded.

While this may not seem like a problem to some, the mute is an aggressive bird that can displace native waterfowl and dominate nesting areas. They can be found at ponds, lakes and marshes, feeding on fish, frogs, insects and vegetation.

They nest in large mounds of aquatic vegetation located offshore in swampy areas. They line it with feathers and down before laying five to seven eggs. After approximately 37 days, the eggs hatch and the young can leave the nest within a day. Both parents nurture the young.

Competition between mute swans and the state-threatened trumpeter swan occurs frequently in the Lake Erie marshes. Mute swans establish territories and will begin nesting about three weeks earlier than trumpeter swans and then successfully defend these areas against trumpeters.

The severity of aggression varies between breeding pairs and within seasons. They’ll belligerently defend their territories against any perceived threat, including Canada geese, ducks, water birds and mammals. Their 6- to 8-foot wingspan and 19- to 26-pound size can prove quite menacing. Mute swans may even kill native species and their young. People have also suffered their wrath when getting too close to the mute’s domains.

With just 100,000 acres of marshes in Ohio, competition for habitat has the potential to negatively impact the success of the Division of Wildlife’s trumpeter swan restoration program. This has prompted the division to establish a management plan to control the number of this non-native interloper so that we may preserve our threatened trumpeters and other wildlife species.

A trumpeter swan can be distinguished by its snow-white plumage, black bill and feet. A young bird, or cygnet, is a sooty gray color with a pinkish bill and feet. The trumpeter’s bill may also have a red border on the lower jaw, as if it just put on lipstick for your chance meeting.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” — John Muir

Along the way:

While working with the Division of Wildlife, one of my jobs was to assist in training the state’s wildlife officers. It was designed to help them effectively perform their duties while ensuring their own safety and the safety of those with whom they interact.

That gave me the opportunity to travel the state and to visit many of our facilities, especially the shooting ranges. While their existence is no secret, I’ve always felt that shooters and hunters forget that they’re out there.

Thanks to a new program developed by the division, you have the opportunity to use any of these ranges free of charge on Saturday, Aug. 11. On this first “Free Range Day,” the shooting range permit requirement will be waived at all division class “A,” “B,” and “C” shooting ranges.

The division is partnering with the National Shooting Sports Foundation as part of a continued effort to provide opportunities for recreational shooters. New shooters can gain hands-on experience with firearms at no charge from certified instructors at one of five ranges from noon to 4 p.m. Staff will offer on-site instruction to new or beginning shooters and will provide equipment, ammunition, and hearing and eye protection free of charge.

The following ranges will have Division of Wildlife staff on site to assist new shooters:

• Deer Creek Wildlife Area, corner of Ohio 207 and Cook Yankeetown Road NE, Mount Sterling.

• Grand River Wildlife Area, rifle and pistol shooting at 6693 Hoffman Norton Road, Bristolville, and shotgun shooting at Ohio 88, east of Ohio 534.

• Spring Valley Wildlife Area, 3450 Houston Road, Waynesville.

• Woodbury Wildlife Area, 41384 Ohio 541, Warsaw.

• Cardinal Shooting Center, 3389 Morrow County 225, Marengo.

“Free Range Day” is being offered as part of the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s National Shooting Sports Month. A complete list of division range facilities can be found at www.wildohio.gov.

Step outside:

• You’re driving down the road and a pothole appears. BOOM! Your tire finds the bottom. After the shock and possible expletive or two, you start thinking about damage and wondering, “What can I do?”

The director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources was unfortunate enough to hit one of these road hazards.

He filed a complaint in the Ohio Court of Claims against the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to recover the money it cost him. “I hit a very deep pothole on my way to the airport in the early morning darkness, causing my right front tire to blow out and bending my rim. It also knocked my front end out of line and shut down my electrical system,” Jim Zehringer wrote.

ODOT didn’t fight it, agreeing to pay $1,227 for a new tire, rim and alignment for his sedan. Many Ohio drivers file claims against ODOT every year in the hopes of getting their damages paid. Payment is determined on whether ODOT knew about the pothole and its severity and didn’t get it repaired in a reasonable time frame. I’m glad Zehringer got paid for those damages “¦ he was one of the few lucky ones, offering each of us a blueprint for action.

• WKBW in Buffalo reports that nearly 990,000 gallons of sewage were dumped into Lake Erie on July 22 near Dunkirk. According to officials, heavy rains played a role in the leakage from the Dunkirk Waste Water Treatment Plant. Not good news for the eastern basin.

• Today and tomorrow: Annual black powder competition, patched round-ball only. Today runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., tomorrow runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Black Swamp Muzzle Loaders, Portage Township 19, quarter-mile west of Hancock County 139. Contact Bill Bare at 419-306-2957 or Kevin Silveus at 567-525-1921.

• Tomorrow: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.

• Wednesday, Aug. 8: Rimfire Challenge, 5 p.m., HCCL, 13748 Jackson Township 168, Findlay.

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com.

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