Swans – Toughing Out the Cold
A few weeks ago a Mute Swan and it’s ‘flock’ – 2 or 3 Canada Geese and a similar number of Mallard Ducks – moved onto about the only open stretch of water on Peters Lake. As the ice receded they stayed along the same shoreline, just spread out a bit. As the ice cover grew they retreated back into a small inlet close to the trail which circles the lake. At one point the open area was scarcely the size of a bathtub. The swan floated in it and some of the other birds stood on the ice nearby. But as the other birds joined the swan in the water the open area slowly grew to a small room size.
This morning, Wednesday, I took Frodo for a very short walk along the opposite shore where we had some protection from the trees. Looked like the swan & some of his buddies were still there so after the walk I drove thru the neighborhood to the opposite shore. There’s no roadway around the lake.
I drove around the parking lot to the point nearest the birds and took this shot through the car window.
It was 3F outside & I was cold enough from the walk so, OK, I wimped out. I think you can see the ice coming in on the right side and the shore is immediately on the left. So this is a pretty small patch but, without a doubt, the only open area on the lake.
I took this second shot & you can see one of it’s companions stretching it’s wings.
I think I figured out what’s going on here. Above the shore on the immediate left is an old service road dating back to when this was a water company reservoir. On the opposite side of that road (now part of the walking trail) are 3-4 small springs coming out of the ground. They flow together, and then through a old concrete culvert several feet below the road surface, before flowing into this small inlet. That spring water will be much warmer than the surrounding ice. The birds paddling and feeding is probably mixing it more thoroughly with the surrounding water, raising its temperature and keeping the water open. Their purely physical activity is probably helping also.
It’s not exactly a warm spring spa but I’m sure that’s what is keeping the birds there. There’s water to drink and the roots etc. of plants reachable in shallow water. It certainly looks a lot more inviting than a nearby lake where dozens of Canada Geese were huddled together, perched on the ice, in the middle of a frozen lake.
We’ll see how they do when the temperature drops below zero tonight. If they can tough that out, and I think they will, they’ll be seeing much warmer temperatures over next 7-10 days. Hang in there guys.
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.
In Search of Swans
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.