Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tundra Swans and MORE!

My apologies to any dial-up users -- this post is going to be very heavy on photos and videos.

For the last couple weeks or so, we've been hearing tundra swans flying over -- sometimes while on the deer stand and also real early in the morning when we get up for work. So earlier this week, we made plans to take a drive down to the Mississippi just south of Brownsville, MN to view this spectacle before they continue their migration to their final wintering grounds in the Chesapeake Bay. Usually my Sissy and I take this trip in November, but this year Mr. Johnson decided he'd like to go, so I gladly decided to let him drive (while I knitted, of course!)

I was really disappointed when I woke up early this morning to heavy fog and a dense fog advisory until 10 AM. Fortunately the fog wasn't quite as thick right down on the river as on the higher ridgetops.

Although the weather conditions weren't optimal, I did manage to get a few marginally good photos and videos. These swans are so beautiful in flight. Their wingspan is approximately 5 and a half feet.

Here's an adult with two of this year's hatchlings. Their grayish feathers and pinkish beaks distinguish them from the adults. These juveniles will stay with their parents for a year.

There seems to be plenty of things for them to eat on the bottom of this shallow part of the river. Watching these birds, we saw that most of them were able to just stick their heads under the water to find food, but the juvenile in the center of this picture must have been especially hungry because it was "tipped up" quite a bit of the time!

Preening seemed to be quite an important activity also.

I took quite a few short videos and "stitched" them together to make a couple of longer videos for your viewing enjoyment. Here's Part 1.......

Here's Part 2 of the video. In it you will hear Mr. Johnson ask me if they're protected to which I reply "yes" (don't ask my why I was whispering -- it's not like I was going to scare any birds away by talking out loud!) Anyway, that got me to thinking about whether they're hunted anywhere, so after doing a google search on "tundra swan hunting" I found that several western states do, in fact, allow hunting of tundra swans: Utah, Nevada, Montana, and a limited hunt in North Dakota. Fortunately, Minnesota and Wisconsin have not established any hunting seasons on these beautiful birds.

I was really surprised to see several small flocks of American White Pelicans hanging around in this area of the river also. For some reason, I thought that they would have all migrated through by now.

We drove up the road to check out a couple other viewing areas and I was able to capture this video of a small group of the pelicans "fishing" for their dinner.

There was plenty of other waterfowl in the area also. My duck ID skills are poor at best--when I saw this duck, my first thought was "Bufflehead." Then when I looked at the preview on my camera, I realized that looked more like a merganser beak, so checked my field guide again to confirm the ID of Male Hooded Merganser. This photo really doesn't do it justice, so if you have a field guide handy, look it up to see what a truly beautiful bird this is.

Here's another poor photo of some ducks I couldn't ID. Anybody have any thoughts on these? I'm thinking perhaps Green-Winged Teal or perhaps Gadwall (based on the black rump).

Here's another large group of different ducks. I think I saw a Ring-Necked Duck in the group (the big white ring around the tip of the bill helped with that ID). I think it looks like there are probably a couple of Canvasbacks in this group too.

In spite of the overcast skies and chilly temps, it turned out to be a wonderful day. The sounds and sights of all these swans and waterfowl was so awesome and my only disappointment was that we didn't have the luxury of spending the entire day down there watching them!


Gaelyn said...

Ruthie, what a wonderful day along the mighty Miss. birding. I could hear the trumpter swans in my head even if not on the videos (thanks for the head up). To see so many ducks at once I'd never be able to ID them all and take photos. The fog actually makes for an interesting touch.

Anonymous said...

What wonderful pics of all the water fowl along the Mississippi. The swans are sure vocal, loved the pelicans and the videos are priceless. I sure enjoyed your trip to the Mississippi, thanks for taking us along.


Jayne said...

How fun Ruthie! It's so neat to hear them honking away in the videos!

troutbirder said...

Great report Ruthie. You did good considering you couldn't see your hand in front of your face early yesterday morning. I'm quite sure you saw gadwals. I spent 15 minutes last week making sure of my observation.

Mama Pea said...

Wow, talk about a huge congregation of waterfowl! I have to wonder if they all don't look forward to this reunion every year to renew acquaintances. Thanks for taking us all along on your adventure.

Mel said...

Hola Ruthie,
That was awesome, the videos were perfect for me, as I now know how they look, sound and act.
Seems like a cold morninh though :S

LauraHinNJ said...

Looks like a great day... so nice to hear the pelicans in your video... I miss that sound!

eileeninmd said...

It does sound like you had a wonderful time birding. The Tundra swans are pretty and the White pelican are a favorite of mine. Great photos.

Deb said...

I have not seen a flock of tundra swans this fall, although The Hermit assures me they have been passing over and he has seen and heard them. But I have been pretty lucky with trumpeter swans! Glad you had a great time seeing all the waterfowl.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Gaelyn. Glad you were able to "come along" with me to the Mississippi!

You're welcome Mom. It was a pretty good day and of course, the sun came out just as we were getting home. Oh well.....

Thanks Jayne. It was fund to hear all the different vocalizations from all the birds there.

Thanks for the Gadwall confirmation Ray. It was a first for my Minnesota list check-off!

Hi Mama Pea,
It's really pretty amazing to see all those swans and other waterfowl in one place. There were plenty of Bald Eagles too, but I couldn't get any good pics of them.

Thanks Mel, glad you enjoyed the post. According to the thermometer in our car, it was actually around 46 degrees (Fahrenheit), but it felt sooooo much chillier because of the wind and damp conditions so close to the river.

It was a fun time Laura. I loved hearing the sounds of all those swans and other waterfowl too.

A wonderful time for sure Eileen! Glad you enjoyed the post too.

Thanks Deb. Trumpeter Swans are a pretty great sighting too....I've only seen 2 of them this year.

Birdsong said...

Thanks for sharing the absolutely great videos! I love hearing these swans, and the white pelicans are pretty special too.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a wonderful day Ruthie. Great looks at the swans and ducks despite the foggy conditions. Thanks for taking us along with you. It is funny when unnecessary talk is done at a whisper when in Gods Cathedral.

Ruth said...

One White Pelican spent a week or so about an hour from here in October. It was such an unusual sighting and it attracted many birders. I saw Tundra Swans for the first time this year. Great birding!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Birdsong,
Glad you enjoyed it.

Thanks Lisa. Glad you could come along too!

Hi Ruth,
You would have really enjoyed seeing these big flocks of white pelicans. They really are quite an outstanding bird--even among the swans!

Debbie said...

Great pictures and videos, Ruthie. What a sight it must be in person. Thanks for sharing.