View all of the titles in the
by Stan Tekiela
December 18, 2018
Stepping out of the house I immediately hear a familiar and wonderful sound. A sound that I only hear at this time of year. It is a high pitched and smooth bugling call, given over and over. The sound is always distant and comes from high up in the sky. If you don’t stop and look up and around, you just might miss it. It is the sound of hundreds of migrating Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus).
Each autumn thousands of these pure white waterfowl migrate out of their nesting area in northern Canada and Alaska and make an amazing journey across the country. Migrating flocks number in the hundreds to thousands and consist of immediate and extended family members. They are usually broken up into smaller groups ranging anywhere from 20 to 200 swans. They fly in large V formations.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been seeing and hearing dozens of flocks flying overhead. They are all flying in the same direction, from the northwest to the southeast. Usually they are migrating only on days when the wind is blowing out of the north or northwest.
Formally called Whistling Swans, the Tundra Swan is pure white with black legs, feet and beak. However when these birds feed on the bottoms of iron-rich ponds and lakes the feathers on their heads and upper neck become stained a reddish color. They are incredibly large bird’s weighing up to 16.5 pounds and have a five to six foot wing span.
They look nearly identical to our slightly larger native Trumpeter Swan. The best way to separate the two species is by their call. The Tundra has a high pitch called and the Trumpeter has a low pitched call. The other is by looking just below their eyes near the base of their bill. The Tundra Swan has a small yellow patch and the Trumpeter doesn’t but this is often very hard to see.
There are two populations of Tundra Swans. Both nest in the arctic of northern Canada and Alaska but the western population migrates to winter mainly in California. The eastern population, which is the majority, migrates diagonally across Canada and the eastern half of the U.S. to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and along the coast of North Carolina. They fly an incredible 4,200 miles one way to spend the winter.
While migrating, the eastern flock has several major stop-overs sites. One of these is the backwaters of the Mississippi River between southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. In the shallow ponds and slow moving parts of the river, thousands of Tundra Swans gather to feed and rest. The other day I traveled to see these amazing migrating birds along the Mississippi River.
Even though the temperatures have been well below freezing for several weeks now, parts of the water along the Mississippi River is still open. Just off the west shore of the river, in a short one mile stretch of the river, thousands of Tundra Swans were gathered. These are the very swans that flew over my house four or five days before.
I stopped at a curve in the road that gave me a good view over the river. The moment I opened my truck door I could hear my old friends calling. The sweet sound of the Tundra Swans. Thousands of birds were feeding, resting, and calling. The blue sky reflected on the water’s surface made the white swans stand out like a neon lights.
I spent the rest of the afternoon observing and capturing some wonderful images. I was able to watch as families of swans interacted with others. Some swans where flying while others were sleeping or feeding. But all along, they never stopped calling. They will spend perhaps another week or two feeding and resting before one day they will start to take off and continue on their journey to the east coast. In the spring they will fly up the east coast until they hit Canada then they will turn westward and fly across Canada back to their nesting grounds. I won’t see the swans for another year. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
If you have followed any of my columns over the years you no doubt know that I love all animals, from the tiny shew to the mighty moose and everything in-between. I find fascination and amazement in all the critters not just some of the cool ones. Recently I was photographing a super cool...
I’ve been waiting and planning to capture a very specific image for over three weeks. I put a fair amount of time and effort into the making sure that everything would work out. Now I just had to wait for the leaves to change color from summer green to autumn yellow.
The time has...
It wasn’t easy carrying the oversized dog kennels. The cargo inside where shifting from side to side throwing off our balance. Now and then, a tiny furry hand would reach through the metal bars grasping at the air. We carried the boxes containing the wild contents through the woods and...
When he's out in the field, Stan relies on his Vortex Razor binoculars and Vortex Razor spotting scope to help find the subjects for his award winning wildlife photography.
Now, contact Stan for your special code to get a 10% discount off, along with free shipping, when you purchase any of the Vortex line of binoculars or spotting scopes.
For thirty years, professional wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela has counted on Hunt’s Photo and Video to provide him with professional photography equipment.
From tripods to camera bodies and lenses, Hunt’s has been Stan’s place for everything that he needs. Personal service and prompt shipping means Stan can count on Hunt’s to support his professional wildlife photography career.
Professional Wildlife Photographer Stan Tekiela always uses Feeder Fresh in his seed feeders to help keep the feeders and food dry, clean and mold free.
He also uses Feeder Fresh Nectar Defender in all of his hummingbird feeders. It safely keeps nectar fresh longer.