I’ve been stalking this bird for weeks. Stalking, but not harassing. Never got close enough for that. And really, only got close enough for half decent pix last week. I now realize that I’ve been seeing a solitary swan when driving by various nearby lakes for a couple of years. Saw it, but then discounted what my eyes were seeing because ‘ swans don’t live around here’. About sums up the human condition. But when I did some research on swans after seeing a trio of migrating Tundra Swan on Peters Lake in November, I realized that the imported European Mute Swan could indeed live around here. It was imported to ‘beautify’ parks & ponds and as a non-migrator would tend to stay in place. Nature being what it is, however, enough birds ‘escaped’ from this form of captivity that there are naturalized, wild breeding populations along the East Coast and around the Great Lakes. It is described by various sources as ‘invasive but contained’.
Oh, BTW, my tentative ID of the Tundra Swans has been confirmed by some naturalist friends:
Guess I forgot to tell you that I put one of your Tundra Swan photos up on iNaturalist, as blurry as it was, to see if those guys were willing to confirm them as Tundra Swan and within a day a fellow from northeast PA confirmed them as Tundra Swan. That’s what I believed them to be as well given location and timing.
When first spotted, this solitary Mute Swan was swimming at the far end of the upper pond, probably 70 yards from my vantage point. Using my iPhone with it’s maximum 2X zoom and some enlargement, this is the best I could get:
After looking at the pictures I realized that there was a small object & wake in front of the swan. Probably following one of the mallards common there.
Finally, after a longer cold spell, the upper pond froze over & the swan moved to the larger, lower lake. It was weeks before it settled into a small inlet near the walking trail and I could get the following shot :
After my experiences of the last few months, I’m starting to see the limitations of the iPhone for any kind of nature photography. I’m not trying to capture birds in flight or lions on the Serengeti Plain but it’s not realistic to expect to see wild creatures at selfie/close-up distances unless you’re at a zoo. And I’m not interested in the artistic side of photography. But, if I see something new or interesting swimming 50 yards out in the lake, I want to be able to take a photo good enough for ID purposes.
After researching, I’ve found various companies offering clip on lenses for the iPhone camera that will add fisheye, wide angle, macro and zoom capabilities. But each of those lenses cost about $90. And the only one I care about, the zoom, only comes with 3X. On top of the phones 2X, that gives a total of 6X zoom. More, but not really enough. I’m seriously considering a ‘good beginners quality’ Canon, digital, point & shoot, that can give up to 40X zoom. Now, you’re talking zoom.
If any readers have camera suggestions I’d welcome them. Keep you posted.
On Thursday, 11/15, Frodo & I were taking our regular walk near Peters Lake in Peters Twp. It was cold & raining, but a dogs gotta do what a dogs gotta do. It would be a short walk. As we walked along the lake, I spotted the three large white birds, pictured below, near the middle of the lake. I’ve seen snow geese in migration that stopped there once, but these seemed too large for geese and there was none of the blue/gray color variations I saw the last time. I wondered if they were swans, but they “didn’t look like swans”. More about that thought later.
As soon as Frodo had done his duty, we hustled back to the car. I grabbed my iPhone and left Frodo in the back seat. I didn’t hear any complaints from him as I left. Guess even he’d rather be warm & dry than cold & wet. I took several pictures. These were the best of a bad lot. I’ve since retained a consultant ( my granddaughter) who showed me how to use the cameras zoom feature & then further zoom & take a screen shot of the subsequent pix. I explained to her that they were most likely swans but could be snow geese (less likely in my opinion) and the birds having a black bill rather than a light colored bill would confirm it as a swan. As she ramped up thru increasingly blurry enlargements she suddenly said, ” they’re getting fuzzy, but they have black bills”. I can almost see them myself but as I read further about swans I concluded there was only one ID likely.
There are 3 swans found in North America.
1. Trumpeter Swan – Although there are some populations around the Great Lakes it’s main range is across the northern tier to the West Coast, then north into Canada. It has a black bill but, more decisively, the Cornell website describes these as ” immense birds ” that can reach 30 lbs + in size with a wingspan of 8 ft & over. It’s described as the worlds largest swan, the largest waterfowl in North America, and one of the world’s largest flying birds. My trio above were clearly not immense bids. So, not Trumpeter Swans.
2. Mute Swan – This is a non-native, European, bird. It was imported to decorate our ponds & parks, so it can be found all over the country. It is slightly smaller that the Trumpeter, but clearly mine were not mute swans (below).
3. Tundra Swan – This is a white swan with a black bill. It is considerably smaller than Trumpeters or Mutes. It’s summer breeding range is, as the name suggests, along the Arctic Circle from Canada to Alaska. In the Fall, easternmost populations take a migratory route that can pass over W PA on their way to wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast from Maryland to the Carolinas. I think this is the bird I saw.
Comfortable with the ID, I wondered why my first impressions were that they ” didn’t look like swans “. And then I came to understand why I expected swans to have a certain look.
* The only live swans I had ever seen were likely those stocked in parks & ponds. These were invariably Mute Swan.
* Early images of swans, in e.g. Disney movies, were also Mute Swan.
* As a child, my reading included the classical fairy tales of European authors like Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. Naturally, if the story had anything to do with a swan, the illustrations would be that of the European Mute Swan.
* As a result, my minds classical image of a swan was that of a large white bird with swept back wings held high on the back; a long, gracefully arched neck; right down to the large black ‘nose bump’ at the base of a light colored bill. In short, a Mute Swan.
I rather enjoyed that short voyage of discovery. I hope you have the opportunity for similar ones.
Walking along Peters Lake yesterday, 10/16, & spotted an Osprey doing a slow pass along the shoreline before it veered off. I’m thinking that it’s getting around the time when they’ll start moving toward a wintering ground. A very stable metric such as daylight/nighttime hours must be one trigger. Food availability has to play in there also since I’ve read that they don’t make a ‘continuous ‘ migration flight but a series of jumps & layovers on the way to a final wintering ground.
Also wondered when Cormorant move out since I hadn’t seen them for a few days. But then met a walker who described the ‘unusual’ birds she saw yesterday. ” Black, like crows, but with ‘funny’ necks & beaks “. Turns out she was describing 4 Cormorant perched in same tree I usually spot a pair. So we have a little flock of Cormorant. In nice weather they seem to prefer a perch at the top of the biggest, deadest tree overlooking the water and spend more time out of the water than in it. And, in the water, they ride so low that it reminded me of a submarine running with periscope up & deck barely breaking the surface of the water.
More Egrets. Met another couple & the fellow remarked ‘ I think I saw what might have seen 3 Snowy Egret yesterday ‘. I’d also seen some white ‘birds’ in shallows at far end of the lake yesterday but way to far for me to make an ID. I replied that my ‘ birder friends ‘ had advised that we don’t see Snowy’s around here but more likely Great White Egrets. I described the Snowy as a medium sized bird only a couple of feet tall while the Great White is closer to the size of a Great Blue Heron. Nope, he said, weren’t nowhere near that big. So there we are. Trouble is, the Audubon Field Guide on-line for Snowy Egret quotes ” After breeding season may wander well north “. Their range map shows “Common” breeding area in E PA & coastal areas as far N as Connecticut and ‘Uncommon” breeding area on W end (Ohio Shore) of Lake Erie to a dotted line that approximates the US/Canada border. So, it’s certainly possible. Wonder if there have been other reported sightings of Snowy’s? Either that, or we have some ” Not-So-Great White Egrets ” out there.
Hope the Fall stays brighter for a while. Really tired of rain. Have fun out there.
Note from Mon River Towns Program: We would like to include images of the birds referred to in this blog. So please, feel free to share your photos with us!!
Today, 4/3, was the best bird (Osprey) watching day I’ve ever had. After seeing a pair at Peters Lake on Sunday and a loner on Monday, I figured that a smart bird was going to be hunkered down in the conifers around the lake. Staying out of the rain. (Yeah, we were out walking it it.) I guess I forgot that if your lifestyle requires diving into the water to eat, being wet is just part of the deal.
We were rounding the bend at the upper (shallower) end of the lake when one barreled in front of us, from right to left, heading down lake. Over the next few minutes that bird made one dive after another into the water. The most spectacular came after it had spiraled up over treetop height, wheeled around & dropped straight down the elevator shaft into the water. Whoa ! Either that bird was very hungry or he had a nesting mate that was. If it continues to be spending a lot of time fishing then I’m guessing the latter. I couldn’t tell, from across the lake, if it’d been successful. Sooner or later, though, practice will pay.
Next thing, this Great Blue Heron just about flew into my pocket. It came across a small inlet & landed less than 20′ feet away. It seemed to be so focused, staring in the direction of the Osprey, that it never even glanced at the dog & I very close by. Guessing, again, that an active potential predator or competitor ( for the fish ) just naturally demands it’s full attention.
Have fun out there.