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Fall 2018

Reclaimed Mining Property Ideal Habitat for Avian Species: A Summary of Cygnus buccinator Population Growth

By Kathleen Spicer

The loss of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), the near extinction of the Whooping Crane (Grus americana), the endangered status and subsequent recovery of the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) stand as highly visible examples of human disregard for animals and the environment. Another member of the avian family that nearly succumbed to modern humans is the Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator), but through legal protections, dedicated volunteers, and plenty of money, the Trumpeter Swan population is trending in a positive direction.

Any population of animals that is recovering must have a successful breeding population, and if the animal is migratory, it must have the ability to reach, roost at, and return from its non-breeding (wintering) ground. Without a robust population returning to breeding grounds annually, there can be no continued recovery. One of the largest concentrations of overwintering C. buccinator is located in the Mississippi Flyway of west-central Indiana and east-central Illinois, at a location known as Universal Mine.

Peabody Coal Company (PCC) owned and performed strip-mining operations throughout the complex, leading to the formation of what is now known as the Grand Canyon Lakes, located in far eastern Edgar County, Illinois, in addition to many of the smaller bodies of water spread throughout the complex.

After the cessation of mining activity, the lands were deeded over to one of PCC’s holding companies Midwest Coal Reserve, LLC (MCR). MCR was then responsible for the land and sale of property to interested parties, mainly private citizens, farming interests, and large cattle ranching operations. The subdividing of the property into smaller, varied-use parcels provided ample opportunity for not only backfill of water into abandoned strip mining areas, but forage fields for swans. Because it is remote with dirt roads, there is a relative lack of disturbance, overall providing a rich habitat for overwintering swans.

C. buccinator was not recorded present at this locale via eBird until November 9, 1999. Since the initial sighting of 11 birds, a high count of 392 birds has been recorded via EBird on February 18, 2013. Private records kept by interested parties corroborate the return with a record of 8 swans on November 21, 1999 and a high count of 424 on January 21, 2016.

There are approximately 24 bodies of water within the mine complex commonly used by C. buccinator. These bodies of man-made lakes are the nighttime roosting location both in water and on ice once the water has frozen for the season. There are agricultural fields located throughout the mine complex, and surrounding the mine as well. These fields consist mainly of corn and soy, and provide forage on crop leavings, helping to maintain a food source when tubers are not available in water.

As of early 2016, most of the former arable cropland was converted to grazing fields and paddocks for cattle operations, in addition to being opened to in-season hunting, including waterfowl. It is yet to be determined if the new land usage will result in winter mortality via lead poisoning, accidental shootings, and malnourishment due to repeated flushing throughout the day, as no mortality has been recorded thus far at this location. The hope is that this will not adversely affect C. buccinator and the mine will continue to be a relatively isolated and safe location for the population.

C. buccinator at rest on frozen pond, Universal Mine, photo by K. Spicer
C. buccinator at rest on frozen pond, Universal Mine, photo by K. Spicer

Wildlife Rehab at the Movies!


Running Time 112 minutes, Rated PG for mild language

Because after a long day of helping animals what is better than curling up on the couch and watching entertaining stories about animals! These selections only include scripted movies for entertainment about wildlife rehabilitation, not documentaries, and not movies about pets. They must include at least 1 of the following:  Wildlife Rescue, Wildlife Rehabilitation, and/or Wildlife Release.

1993’s Free Willy is probably the most popular (highest grossing) movie involving Wildlife Rehab (Wildlife release) that has ever been made. The movie famously features the hit Michael Jackson Single “Will You Be There.”

Movie Preview

Free Willy is about a troubled teen and an Orca whale that form an unbreakable bond and the story of how they save each other’s lives. Willy is an Orca Whale that is trapped by a group of whalers and sent to an amusement park. Jesse is a 12-year-old boy who gets into trouble and is sent to work at the amusement park as part of his probation. Willy is uncooperative even to his animal trainer. Jesse accidentally falls into Willy’s tank but Willy saves Jesse from drowning. The two form a bond. Jesse is able to teach tricks to Willy, and is offered a permanent job at the theme park after probation. Jesse learns that Willy’s family lives outside the amusement park in the ocean and are calling for him to come home with them. Jesse hatches a plan to release Willy back into the ocean… and the stage is set for an amazing adventure as Jesse tries to return his friend Willy to the Wild and reunite him with his family!

Synopsis courtesy of Peter Revilla


The PDF version of Fall 2018 issue of On Track… is available here.

Below are previous issues of On Track…

NJAWR Winter 2017
NJAWR Spring 2017
NJAWR Fall 2015
NJAWR Fall 2014
NJAWR Fall 2013
NJAWR Summer 2013
NJAWR Spring 2013
NJAWR Winter 2012
NJAWR Fall 2012
NJAWR Spring 2012
NJAWR Winter 2009
NJAWR Winter 2007