Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tundra Swans

Thanks to Troutbirder's post about his Thursday visit to the Mississippi to see Tundra Swans, I knew today would be a good day to call up my Sissy and take a drive down to see this event for ourselves. It was a nice day for a drive and we kept our eyes peeled for Snowy Owls along the interstate. No Snowy Owls were spotted, but we did see lots of Red-Tailed Hawks and even more Bald Eagles.

Once we got south of Brownsville, Minnesota, we started seeing the swans and other waterfowl where open water remained on the Mississippi. Many of them were just hanging out in the 38 degree water, but there were other groups constantly flying in and out of the area.

By late morning, the sun became hidden behind a heavy layer of clouds. It was windy and cold and the lighting for photos wasn't ideal, but I couldn't resist taking some pictures of this Tundra Swan family swimming close to the viewing platform.

You can see how windy it was -- messing up this swan's feathers as it swam around.

Here are the 3 kids swimming by themselves (yes, that's ice in the background!)

Near this group of swans was also a large group of mallards--some of them just sitting on the ice. Doesn't it just make you shiver looking at them?

There were Bald Eagles everywhere in this area too--soaring above the bluffs, sitting out on the ice, and just perched in the trees. I've never seen so many eagles in such a short amount of time. Here's a pair of juveniles sitting in a tree right along the highway. I was able to snap this picture quickly before they both flew away.

Also out on the river channel was this large flock of waterfowl. We saw Common Goldeneys and Redheads; other birders nearby also identified Canvasbacks and Scaup. As we hiked down to the river, something scared them and huge groups of the ducks started to fly away. It was really neat to hear the sound their wings made as huge numbers of ducks flew into the air and to see all these ducks circling around over the water. I've never seen anything like it before.
At one of our stops this morning, I recognized Ecobirder with a group of birders. I hope he does a post about his visit to the Mississippi today since his camera and photography skills are superior to mine. (If you're not familiar with his blog, you'll want to click on the link above and check out his wonderful photos.)

Being something of a train enthusiast, I was also happy for the opportunity to see this freight train traveling south on these tracks that run along the Mississippi.

Here's something else I saw today that I never thought I'd see again......

And my sissy shared some good news with me today too--she's working on quitting smoking with the help of Chantix. In 3 months, she's gone from a pack a day to less than a pack a week. I am sooooo happy about that. Way to go Sissy!


Lynne said...

First off, hurray for your sister! That's really impressive and a tough thing to do.

I read Troutbirder's post about the swans and wanted to go too. I've never been down there. It must have been great!

RuthieJ said...

It was great Lynne, but really chilly! I was glad I was wearing my long johns.

Mama Pea said...

I think your pictures of the birds are great! Gives a real feeling (c-o-l-d) of what it was like to be there. We've only rarely had the privilege of seeing any kind of a swan up here. And those few were obviously lost, sad to say. The shot of the train is really good. Did you hike down right near the tracks to get the picture?

Looks like you had a fun day with your sister. Tell her we're sending support in her efforts.

KGMom said...

Oh, good for your sissy--one of the hardest things to do. So, it's good she has you to cheer her on.

I love the photo of the train coming through the winter trees.

We have low gas prices around here. While it's nice to see--I fear that we Americans will go back to our wasteful ways. U.S. car makers need to learn to lead the way. Oops--may be too late for that.

Dana and Daisy said...

it sounds like a really good day! Bravo to your sister!

Anonymous said...

Thanks loads for bringing me along today. My belly hurts from laughing so much!! I keep thinking about the "peanut allergy" and I start laughing all over again.
The swans were very cool as were all the other birds and waterfowl. It was especially neat to hear the sound of all those ducks taking off at the same time. I've never heard anything like it. I guess we're pretty lucky to be so close to a major flyway.
Your sissy

PS: Are you sure you and David aren't twins?????? Maybe you should check with Mom.......

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a thrill it is to see so many of our native swans in one place. I would love to see this sight, thank you for sharing with us Ruthie.

I am as thrilled about your sister quitting smoking as you are. Good for her!!! I hope and pray that my sister and my daughter does the same some time. They have both talked about it but have never had any luck. This makes me very sad and frightened since our Father died of lung cancer.

Beth said...

Beautiful pictures. I love the swans and the shot of them in the air. You got a nice shot of the train, too. You are so fortunate to have a sister to pal around with and share your birding adventures. The chantix does work, my step-son has been taking it. I think this is his 3rd round--sometimes it takes a while but he is doing well but he hasn't smoked in 2 months. Weird dreams are a side effect but he says it's worth it to get rid of the cigarettes.

Jayne said...

What a great day together, and three cheers for your sissy's kicking the habit! The most important thing she could do for her health. :c)

Heather said...

Wow, what beautiful birds. Someday I would like to become acquainted more with water birds - we just don't have very many of them around my area accept for Canadian Geese. I'm going to have to start traveling more to see birds! And hey - kudos to your sissy!

Martha said...

Love the train shot! The pics of the swans and other birds are great, too, but LOVE that train photo.

Glad to hear about your sister. My husband quit smoking while he was driving long-distance as a trucker. I still tell him how proud of him I am more than 10 years later. It is not easy but the rewards are fantastic.

Kallen305 said...

Lovely photos. Your picture of the tundra swans in flight leads me to believe I am may have seen two of them last weekend. It was breathtaking to see and they made this sound while they were flying that gave me chills.

Ruth said...

Great winter birding! I will have to closely check the difference between Tundra and Trumpeter swans. Perhaps I have seen a Tundra too.

Shellmo said...

It looked chilly but what great sites to behold - loved seeing the swans and all those mallards!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful shots. I never can seem to spot hawks and eagles perched in their trees. They seem to be so well hidden.

Anonymous said...

Very nice pics of the swans and ducks at the RIVER. If the weather moderates now, they will be there for all to enjoy. Glad you both had a good time and lots of laughs. No, Ruth and David are not twins, believe me.


Meggie said...

Looks like quite a day for you and your Sissy. Your photos are great, glad you wore your longjohns, though. Chilly temps, I'm sure. Kuddos to your Sissy for trying to quit smoking.

Marsha said...

What a thrill to go see these swans must have been. I loved the seventh shot showing all the waterfowl flying above the water as well as in the water.

Kudos to your sissy for doing so well with quitting smoking.

Mary C said...

Hi Ruthie - well that's one bird (tundra swans) that I did not see while here in New Mexico! Lots of snow geese though! And sandhill cranes and lots of ducks, too. The number of cranes was down again this year as it was last year, too. But I did get to see lots of them anyway. I like your bald eagle photo. I saw just one on the Bosque earlier in the week, but no photo. Your photo of the geese flying reminds me of all the snow geese when they take off there at the Bosque. And your train photo would be a beautiful Christmas card photo. It reminded me of many other train photo Christmas cards I've seen. And yea! While we've been on vacation we saw the gas prices drop from $2.03 down to $1.87 in Socorro. We noticed tonight that they have also dropped here in ABQ. It sure would be nice to see if gas is less than $2 at the pump in CA. Ah, California dreaming?

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mama Pea,
I checked the range map and it looks like the swans angle across Minnesota from NW to SE. I'm glad we got down to see them when we did--as cold as it's been, once the river freezes, they'll all be gone.
The train tracks run parallel to the river on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides; we crossed the tracks to get down close to the shore for those duck pictures.

Hi Donna,
I think you're right--since folks didn't learn from the previous gas crisis events, I'm pretty sure there's not much hope for this time either.

Thanks Dana. My sissy reads my blog, so I'm sure she will be encouraged by everyone's positive comments too.

Hi Sissy,
Thanks for coming along. It was fun to see all those different birds and catch up on the gossip too.
(read below--Mom says "NO")

Hi Lisa,
According to my field guide, looks like the Tundra Swans pass through the northern half of Indiana on their migration route--maybe you'll get to see some this fall too.
I hope my sissy can kick the habit too--our dad had a smoking-related cancer too but is cancer-free now after surgery and radiation.

Thanks Beth. It's fun to go birding with someone else and they can be the "spotter;" then we just pull off the road and jump out with our binoculars--Mr. Johnson isn't quite as accomodating when I'm riding with him.
My sister did mention some vivid dreams also, but no other side effects.

Thanks Jayne.

Hi Heather,
My waterfowl skills need a lot of work too--mallards and Canada Geese are still the only ones I can confidently identify without having to check the field guide. There are some man-made lakes not far from me, but finding the time to get over there during peak migration events is my biggest problem.

Thanks Martha. I'm glad my sissy made the decision to quit too. I know she's tried before, but now that she's made her mind up for sure, I know she'll be able to do it.

Hi Kallen,
I remember seeing and hearing a flock fly over last fall too. They fly so much higher than the Canada geese and the sound is very different. I stood in the parking lot staring up into the sky like watching them fly over till I couldn't see them anymore. (I'm sure anyone looking out the office windows must have thought I was a complete idiot!)

Hi Ruth,
The Trumpeters are a little bigger in size and it looks like the differences in their bills is the best way to decide who's who. Plus the fact that Trumpeters are not nearly as common as the Tundras. Good luck!

Hi Shelley,
It was pretty chilly, but definitely worth getting "frosted buns" for!

Hi ScienceGuy,
Fortunately for us, all of the foliage was off the trees already and these eagles were SO HUGE sitting in trees right along the road that they were hard to miss. It was so cool.

Thanks Mom. I heard on the weather radio today that the water temp at Brownsville was down to 37 degrees. I 'spose it won't be long till these smart waterfowl head for warmer conditions.

Thanks Meggie.

Thanks Marsha.

Hi Mary,
You'll have to check out the Tundra Swans once you get back to California--I got a call from my brother last week saying they were back in his area (south of Yuba City).
I'm glad you got a chance to visit the Bosque again this year. I would like to see some of those huge flocks of snow geese someday.
I hope your California gas goes down too--I still can't believe ours has gotten this low!

Larry said...

You've got some great birding spots up your way but I guess you have to contend with tough weather.-I like trains too-especially old ones.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Larry,
Being an outdoorswoman (and a knitter!), I definitely have enough warm clothes to dress for any type of weather, so I didn't get too cold this day and of course, seeing all these neat birds distracts you from thinking about the weather too.

Mary said...

Congratulate Sissy for me!

Ruthie, that shot of 1,000 birds is fantastic and I love that train!

It was a pleasure to pay only 1.89 to fill my tank yesterday. Now we're hearing news (another study has revealed...) that lower gas prices can be hazardous.

I guess every silver lining has a black cloud :o)



troutbirder said...

Wow What a great post. You certainly have the skill and determination to get the best of that opportunity. I'm glad I was able to help in a small way

Beverly said...

Yeah, really good post; it looks like you had great fun! And what fun to run into Ecobirder...I hope you introduced yourself. I think it was way cool of you to mention his site, too! He seems like a nice guy.

We have a train that makes regular runs (for tourists) over the mountains here. It used to go close enough to my old cabin that I could see it. I outta take some photos of it sometime; it has a steam engine!!!

You inspire me, Ruthie...