Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tundra Swan Trip-Part 2

When we first started seeing all of the swans in the river, we started looking for a spot to pull over on the highway, then finally saw the sign for the Scenic Overlook - 1/2 Mile Ahead on Left. I'm not sure who was responsible for this Brownsville Overlook (maybe the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources), but it was a really nice and newly completed viewing area with lots of parking spots and this informational signboard.

Here's some information on Tundra Swans by Stan Tekiela from his "Ducks & Geese of Minnesota Field Guide."

Tundra swans are the smallest and most numerous of our swans and they're called Tundra Swans because they nest on the open tundra of Alaska and northern Canada. Pairs form in the fall before migration, with bonds lasting many years, if not for life. They may have 4-5 babies and both parents take turns incubating the eggs. The parents lead the chicks to food and then the chicks copy the feeding behavior of the parents.

The chicks stay with the parents for a year and are distinguished from the adults by their gray plumage and pinkish bills. The juvenile in the photo below looks much grayer than juvenile in the above picture.

They tip forward in the water to feed and with the aid of their long neck, they're able to reach down and tear off aquatic plants from the bottom of the river or lake. The picture below shows only one "tipped-up" (at the left side of the picture).

According to Stan, we will only see them here in Minnesota during the fall migration. They will fly non-stop for 2-3 days from Alaska down to North Dakota and Minnesota. They gather in great numbers--up to thousands (see photos below!) in large lakes and rivers to rest and feed, often staying until the water freezes before continuing on their migratory journey. Then they fly another 2-3 days to wintering areas on the East Coast. In the spring, they will migrate north up the eastern seaboard, turning west across northern Canada to return to their spring and summer home.
We didn't drive any further south than this Brownsville overlook, so I'm not sure how much farther downriver these swans were, but it was amazing to see the sheer numbers of them in this approximately 1-mile stretch of Mississippi backwaters.

They were doing quite a bit of vocalizing and it was really neat to hear all of them calling to one another. We ended up standing outside and watching them for at least half an hour--until our lips started going numb from the wind and cold. We finally got back into the vehicle and turned on the heater so we could watch them a little more while we warmed up. We wondered if they all leave on the same day or if they take off in little groups until everyone is gone? Wouldn't it be amazing to be there if they all decided to take off the same day?

I'm glad my sissy was able to come along with me on this trip. It's going to be my second best birding adventure with her (our first and most memorable will always be the Great Gray Owl irruption trip we went on in February of 2005).

And now, as promised, here's the longer movie (20 seconds) of swans.

Thanks for coming along with me on this Tundra Swan trip--hope you had a good time. Someday I hope each of you will get a chance to see these magnificent birds in person. If you ever decide to take a trip to Minnesota in late November, I would be happy to be your host!


Trixie said...

Whoa! So many swans. You are so lucky, Ruthie. Thanks for taking us along.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Trixie,
Do you ever see the swans in Alaska in the spring and summer?

Cathy said...

Oh, yes! That was a lovely trip. That movie is beautiful.

MOM said...

I could hardly wait for todays blog not knowing when you would post it. (Jane came here for church today with Ehtan-Jon.
Came to the house after church and stayed for dinner and the afternoon). Those are amazing pixs of the swans and what a great video, it would have been another first for me and probably a few other bloggers to see all those birds in one place. Glad you and Anna had a fun time, did you eat all your treats or did you save some for the next birding trip? Did you save me some cheese curds? If you didn't I forgive this time.

Meggie said...

I loved seeing the tundra swans. I knew a little about them from Dave's blog Around Anchorage. What a magnificent site. So glad you and your sis took us along with you. Did you take the video on a digital camera?

mon@rch said...

well wroth the wait! I love those bazillion tundras in your photos! The video is great and I just loved hearing those guys whooping!

Mary said...

Those swans are so beautiful. I could see how cold it was and hear the wind howling in the video. Brrrr!

Thanks, Ruthie, for the information you share on these lovely creatures and the wonderful photos. What does your Sissy think of all your picture-taking? :o)

No part 3? :o/

Susie said...

Those tundra swans are really a sight to see! Thanks so much for taking us with you on this fun trip. I also loved seeing you little Ethan enjoying Thanksgiving. Looks like it was a wonderful celebration!!

RuthieJ said...

Thank you Cathy, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Hi Mom,
I was wishing you could have come along, but I think it would have been a really tiring day for you, so you just get the blogger version instead. Maybe next year??
Sorry, no cheese curds left....I'll remember to get one package just for you next time I'm over that way!

Hi Meggie,
I saw Dave had some moose for you on his blog too!
I did take the movie with my digital camera....first time I attempted to use that feature. Mary (from Mary's Corner of the World) gave me advice on transferring from my camera to the hard drive and then downloading to Blogger. It was pretty easy with someone to guide me.

Hi Mon@rch,
Those swans sure make an unusual sound. I was very glad I got to experience it in person.

Hi Mare,
The weatherman said we got up to 40 degrees yesterday, but that wind was blowing hard and it was pretty freakin' cold!
My sissy doesn't bug me about stopping or lingering to take pictures and in exchange I don't bug her about smoking, so it works out pretty good for both of us ;-)
No part 3 because I had to take the spousal unit's Chevy Tahoe for the adventure and it cost me $75 to gas that baby up for the round trip! So now I'll have to spend some time working to pay for that :(

Hi Susie,
My brother called me last week (from Robbins, CA) to tell me that he had seen a bunch of Tundra Swans in newly flooded rice fields in his area. According to my Western U.S. and California field guides, they winter in northern parts of California, so keep your eyes peeled the next time you're out on a road trip.

your sissy said...

Thanks for bringing me along on the trip. It was a great way to spend a day off from work :) I took Kathy down to see the swans today and also to see some of the damage from the floods in Aug. We drove down (newly-opened) Highway 76 into Houston. We were both amazed by the sheer power of the water that ran through that valley. When I asked her later what she thought of all the swans she replied, "It was a bunch of birds swimming around in the water". I guess I have a little work to do on her!! She probably would've said that the GGO irruption was "a bunch of birds sitting around in trees". Perhaps age 21 is a bit too young to get excited about this.... Anyway, I had fun. Thanks again for taking me.

your sissy said...

One more intersting tidbit from our outing today--Kathy spied a trampoline mixed in with some of the debris along a creek down by Hwy 76. I think that was more exciting by her standards than the each his own. At least she agrees to go along with me so there may be hope for a future in birding for that young lady :)

RuthieJ said...

Well, what's a mother to do???

I'll just have to get her over to my house next summer and have a hummingbird sit on her finger. If that doesn't convert her to being interested in birds, then there's no hope for that girl! :)

Jayne said...

My lips are cold just listening to that! Glad you all had such a great time together. The swans are magical!

Marsha said...

Wow, that is a lot of swans. Thanks for sharing.

How far south of Wabasha would this area be?

RuthieJ said...

Hi Jayne,
It took a while for the cold to penetrate because we were so engrossed with watching the swans, but when it finally hit us, we were really cold!

Hi Marsha,
It's quite a ways south of Wabasha....actually it's south of LaCrescent, so you can follow HWY 61 south out of Wabasha to LaCrescent and then go a couple miles beyond till you get to the Brownsville turnoff and then it's another 2-3 miles down that road (just about a mile south of Brownsville).

Mary C said...

Hi Ruthie - (thanks for the plug) ;o) - that wind would have turned me off, especially thinking what the wind chill factor must have been. But then you do get used to it, don't you? And when you have something so beautiful to look at and take photos of, you kind of forget how cold it is. I'm also wondering if their beauty and grace while flying and migrating is similar to the sandhill cranes. If so, then you can imagine what it's like to watch thousands of cranes flying in or out in a given moment. I'm glad you and your sister enjoyed your outing.

Deb said...

What an amazing sight! Although I disagree with Tekiela; I have personally seen more tundra swans here in Minnesota during the spring migration than the fall. I remember one March I rode my bike to one of the pools at Carlos Avery WMA north of the Cities just to see the huge flocks of tundra swans and listen to them.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mary C,
Thanks for your help!
You know it's funny about the weather..... if we had been out there in February or March, we probably would've thought it was not too bad of a day, but this early in the winter, I'm really not used to it yet (even though I was wearing my long johns!)
The swans did remind me a little bit of the pictures and movies I've seen of the sandhill cranes. I hope to take a trip to the Platte River next spring and experience the sandhill crane migration in real life!

Hi Deb,
Thanks for the information. Now that I know more about the swans and also what they sound like, I'll know to watch for them in the spring too!

Jennifer said...

Gosh... we feel lucky when a flock of 20 or so decide to rest on big pond for the night, though we have on occasion had in the hundreds. this would be fantastic to see.

Larry said...

Wow!That's great! Unfortunately, our most common swan is the Mute Swan. Lovely birds but they're a bit of a problem.Nice video-I like the audio part best.