Rare trumpeter swan shot in Yaphank 

Swan shot in flight; reward offered    

BY LINDA LEUZZI Looking out their back door to witness the exhilarating wildlife, their habits, joyful escapades and sometimes turf battles on Yaphank Lake, is a favorite daily bright spot for Bob and Audrey Kessler. Especially riveting the last couple of years was the appearance of the trumpeter swans, which began wintering there in 2009. 

Audrey Kessler blinked a couple of times when she first saw them. “They’re a rare bird and when they first came, I documented them,” she said. “Then I called Anthony Graves. He told me it was impossible.” Graves came to see for himself and became a believer. Graves is a naturalist and chief environmental analyst for Brookhaven Town’s Division of Environmental Protection. He knows his birds. “They’re different from mute swans, which are from Europe,” he said. “These are bigger and they’re one of our native North American swans.” Graves explained they were hunted to the point where there were only 70 left in the 1930s.

They wound up being protected and made a small but substantial comeback. “The Upper Midwest has the biggest population,” Graves said. “They may be establishing old migration routes, but they have not been seen on Long Island since the 30s.” This pair, who stayed from December to March, would sing to each other and put their heads together, forming a heart, Audrey Kessler said, “just like the pictures you see on Valentine’s Day. They are so beautiful and graceful.” 

Unfortunately, the pair was ripped apart on Jan. 8. One of them was shot. 

The Kesslers live in the beautiful German- American Settlement League, a private, close-knit community established in the 1930s. There are 43 homes on 46 acres. Yaphank Lake is the jewel of the community. “They weren’t here long, only a couple of days, when it happened,” said Bob Kessler of the pair that made their appearance this year in January. “You can’t mistake them for another bird.” 

Wildlife rehabilitator Terry Pratt, who heads up Stars in the Forest Rehabilitation in Riverhead, said the trumpeter swan was picked up a day after it was shot, on Jan. 9. “A person who was in a canoe across the lake heard the shots and saw where they came from; it was a boat with two young men who were near the swans and he chased them off,” Pratt said. The person called Pratt’s organization. “He didn’t realize the swan had been hit and went out in the canoe again and saw blood. This is a populated area with a restaurant nearby and there’s houses all along the lake. So, it’s dangerous if someone’s shooting over there.” 

Pratt described what happened next. “We went down [to Yaphank Lake], and the bird was on the ice and some of the [mute] swans were on top of him trying to push him under the water. And we grabbed it,” she said, adding that the mate was hovering overhead. The caller requested anonymity, she said. “It has a fracture of the ulna, the bone that connects to the elbow joint of the wing,” Pratt said. “We’re all helping it recover.” The injured bird was taken to the East End Animal Emergency Hospital initially, then to an avian veterinarian. “The wrap of the wing has to stay on for three weeks,” Pratt said. “It comes off Feb. 1. His wing will have to be exercised.” Then it would be a wait-and-see situation, Pratt said. 

“This is hunting season, but no one hunts swans,” Pratt said. “I’ve never had a swan at this facility that was this stressed out. They gave him fluid at the emergency hospital and I had to move him to a separate area here and we have to tube-feed him. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.” “This is a large swan; I don’t think it was a mistake,” she added. “I can’t prove anything but I think it was an act of cruelty.” Pratt said she’s spoken to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Law Enforcement Office, as has Graves. The DEC issued this statement: “The DEC received a complaint earlier this week regarding a trumpeter swan being struck,” it said. “DEC is investigating.

Trumpeter swans are a federally protected species and considered a migratory game bird in New York. There is no open season for trumpeter swans; therefore, any hunting of this species would be considered a violation of DEC Environmental Conservation Law.” The DEC requested information from the public about the incident. Audrey Kessler is worried. The mate, which waited on the lake for a few days, recently flew off with Canada geese. She’s hoping it will return, and that the injured swan will recover. 

Enrico Nardone, director of the Seatuck Environmental Association, a county nature center and facility based in Islip that fosters conservation and respect for wildlife, is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the conviction of the shooter. “We were outraged to hear about it and it was suggested a reward might help to shed some light on this and investigate it and prosecute the shooter. This is a rare species on Long Island and it’s a shame to see it happen,” he said.