University of Nebraska-Kearney graduate student, Heather Johnson partnered with the Platte Basin Timelapse (PBT) team to place time-lapse cameras on Trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) nests. The cameras allowed her to monitor nesting behavior of swans in the Sandhills of Nebraska. In summer 2016, Michael Forsberg and Heather set up cameras on two nests. The first camera was set up on a nesting pair of swans at Cottonwood State Recreation Area (SRA) near Merriman, Nebraska. While the second camera was set up on a nest further south on privately owned, Vaughn Lake in Cherry County, Nebraska.
The first nest on Cottonwood SRA successfully hatched two baby swans, also called cygnets. However, the story was much different for the second nest on Vaughn Lake. Unfortunately, the nest on Vaughn Lake was not as sturdy as the nest on Cottonwood SRA. Adverse weather inundated the nest with water, and it sank into Vaughn Lake. Though events like this are heartbreaking, time-lapse footage allowed biologists to see behaviors that have never been witnessed. Previously, biologists assumed that Trumpeter swans build up nests by adding new nest material to combat rising water. However, this behavior of rebuilding the nest has never been witnessed in Trumpeter swans. In fact, even more compelling, addition of nest material was not only done by the female, but the male also helped when the female was not able to keep up with the rapidly sinking nest. Unfortunately, despite their diligent efforts, the swan pair was unable to rescue the nest.
Photography by Michael Forsberg