May 23, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 5

A swan and his family

Of Cabbages and Kings



This is a true story by Carlene Hardt of the amazing Trumpeter swan, Solo, who spent many years at TurnbullNational Wildlife Refuge living his legacy for us to enjoy.

Carlene begins, “In 2005 my mother gave me a Canon film camera and I took a class in photography. It was the beginning of a whole new way of seeing“. At first Hardt concentrated on things close at hand in the Cheney area, then ventured to Turnbull occasionally to see what she could find. Turnbull’s pools, wetlands, meadows and lakes brought so many new aspects to her attention that she began to share with her family and friends.

In 2008 Hardt noticed a particular swan on the far side of Winslow Pool. He was so flexible and graceful as he preened. The staff at Turnbull told her of a male swan named Solo. He was the lone survivor of a flock of swans imported to Turnbull in the 1960s. Hardt had found Solo!

Spokesman-Review outdoors writer Rich Landers wrote, “He is perhaps the oldest seasonal wildlife resident at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge…He’s a family man, and a widower, but as far as anyone knows, Solo has no family left. His mate was killed, apparently by a coyote, while nesting on the refuge in 1988. But Solo keeps coming back, mostly alone.” In 1992 Solo found another mate who also disappeared and for the next 15 years he was alone again.

Biologists estimated Solo’s age between 43 and 46 at that time. Refuge biologist Mike Rule said, “He is a real senior citizen and likely breaking some longevity records.” Solo was a determined old man as well. When he arrived every spring to the Pine Creek chain of lakes he spoke in swan language to all Canada geese, “Get out! This is my territory.” Nancy Curry, former refuge manager, said, “Each spring when he returned he would come in low and fly up and down the chain of lakes trumpeting loudly. No other wild trumpeter swans have ever done this.”

One day Hardt read in the newspaper, “A male swan known as Solo has sired babies for the first time in 22 years!” Nancy Curry took a photographer to see the family and the photographer asked the female swan’s name. Hardt said, “Nancy promptly christened her Leia.”

Hardt began to work with a telephoto lens and found she had lots of patience in order to produce fantastic pictures. She zoomed in on Solo and his family. “It’s his behavior,” she said, “that tells me who he is. “She observed Solo and Leia’s courtship and noticed their graceful synchronized action. The pictures tell how the two parents took care of their four little cygnets.

There is much more to this fascinating story. Carlene Hardt continues to visit Turnbull Refuge. She said, “It is peaceful and quiet, beautiful. I never know what I’m going to see. It’s an adventure and challenge. It’s an outlet for being outside, walking in nature.”

Luella Dow is a Cheney-area author. She can be reached at

Reader Comments