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Swans in the Mist

I went to take the trash out with Kevin, and as we walked back down the long gravel drive, I happened to look up. It’s been very foggy these last few days, so it was one of those oddly bright dusks where the fog is brighter than the sky.

A V-formation of swans went overhead in total silence.

They were very low over the house, almost skimming the tree-line, their outlines just faintly blurred with fog. I could see the darkness of their bills. It was a perfect monochrome image—white birds on white fog with black bills and black scribbles of trees reaching up toward them. There were nine or ten of them, maybe more—it didn’t even occur to me to count them.

It was eerie how silent they were. Geese honk when they go by. These didn’t.

I, being the cool operator that I am, yelled “Shit! Dude! Uh! Thing!” and pointed wildly.

Kevin looked up and said “….whoa.

I scrambled inside and checked the internet. It turns out that North Carolina has the largest wintering population of tundra swans on the East Coast—75 thousand birds. These birds were a good bit farther west and south than usual—I’ve never seen one out here before (or in fact ever, they were lifers for me!)—but given the weird weather and the fact that we’re due a winter storm coming in very soon, I expect they were moving in response to incoming weather, probably heading to Jordan Lake. (All tundra swan reports in this county are on that particular lake, making it a safe bet.)

It was an extraordinary sight, and not one that I expected when I was pulling my coat on to help Kevin drag the trash down to the curb. So I guess you just never know, huh?

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.


"I, being the cool operator that I am, yelled “Shit! Dude! Uh! Thing!” and pointed wildly."

I'm so relieved to know I'm not alone... 'THING!!!' is my default exclamation for 'Holy crap look at that'.

Swans are just such wonderful birds.

"Thing" is the top element of the lattice of stuff.

Yep. You never know. I love seeing things unexpected.

And does anybody know the difference between tundra swan and trumpeter swan for field marks?
Because I thought WHOA Trumpeters? at your description, and looking at photos on Google is not enlightening me.

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"THING!" is about my level of default incoherence too; and I wave my hands a lot. Some days I really think I should just start barking. Barking would work, right?

Out here in Tucson I'm getting impromptu lessons in identifying hawks from my friend Ann every time we go out geocaching; for some reason we are freaking hip-deep in the things this year (or maybe I'm just doing what she calls 'getting birdbrained' and I call 'learning the eye' from when I used to hunt pottery-shards at ruined castle-sites in Germany (and yes, I had permission.)) Dunno, but I can tell almost a half-dozen apart from their flight-patterns and the way their shoulders look now even before I see their markings clearly; I'm ridiculously proud of this, even though I know it's a small achievement. I'd love to see swans fly-- have you ever heard the song 'Swans Against the Sun' by Michael Murphy?-- since the things are TOTAL BASTARDS up close and personal. Man, they can be worse than geese-- territoral as hell, big enough to break your arm with a wing-blow and entirely willing to mug a poor harmless bystander for her sandwich by hissing and advancing menacingly. Not that I'm bitter or anything...

Congratulations! Another feather in your cap, so to speak.

I've just arrived in S.J. and am looking forward to seeing you very soon.

What a fantastic thing to see! Swans are such beautiful birds, even though they can be territorial as can be and nasty if they think you're infringing.

Why no, I didn't get a lump on my skull from a wing, and mom didn't get a bruise on her arm that lasted for 3 months. *coughs*

You rock. And I love your reports on everything

I wanna see a Tundra Swan up close but it may not happen here in Kansas City.

I have been up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the summer and been almost in touching distance of a family of Trumpeter Swans on a pond by a trail. I just sat down and watched them.

I did not cause them the least bit of upset, but I just sat down to watch. However, I was 16 and a bit silly, and perhaps a bit careless but it did not catch me then. Two days later we were trail riding with a wrangler in that same area and saw a ginormous grizzly bear. I asked the wrangler about it and he said, 'oh, he hangs out around here. He's in it for the ground squirrels.' (which were more than numerous AND would steal food right off a plate or out of your hands if it was not offered freely.)

The horses, being range-raised, kind of looked the bear over and went, 'not bothering us' as we passed. Which was okay because sometimes those horses could be somewhat 'special ed' because they were only ridden in the summer.

I did not hike up there by myself ever again.

Our most interesting bird in our whereabouts is a Coopers Hawk that is poaching pigeons (yaay). Our neighborhood is an open forest with large trees, perfect for the hawk.

Re: You rock. And I love your reports on everything

Keep an eye on the KS birding listserve? They show up here at Cheyenne Bottoms rarely, which is only about 4 hrs from Kansas City. There's hope!

Ground squirrels are hilarious. We have one at the nature center I work at, and he has got the Oliver Twist routine down PAT. His little cheeks will be stuffed with seeds and broccoli, but he still runs up to the front of his cage and holds his little paws up for more.

So wonderful.

And most birders do some identifications by probability. I mean, why bother considering
Pyrrhuloxia when you're in Northern Cardinal country?

Hooray for lifers!!!!

Your swans makes me think of our Christmas Bird Count this year - one of the groups tried SO HARD to turn a pair of pelicans into swans. I'm pretty sure we'll be teasing them about their "pouch-billed swans" for years. :P Of course, I can't say much, since one our grad students and I tried our best to turn three PVC pipes out in the middle of an impoundment into whooping cranes. In all fairness, there'd been reports of some on the refuge, and there were three tall, slender looking objects standing a foot or two taller than the sandhill cranes.

Indeed! The painting you saw at AC this past summer of the swans were actually NC birds!

And it was a gorgeous painting, too!

That sounds so incredible! I can do my best to picture it, but doubt I get close to what it was like to be there.

hehe, I once had a twenty minute (at least) conversation with a new friend about Mercedes Lackey Valdemar books where sentences mostly consisted of "Do you remember the one with the guy and the thing?!" xD

"OMG OMG OMG YES! I loved that bit!" :)

We refer to the Canada Geese as The Flying Vuvuzelas.

Bwaha! Best name I've ever heard for them!!

“Shit! Dude! Uh! Thing!”

That's you, Ursula. Grace under pressure. :)

Loved this :D Just goes to show, you should always look up! Er ... and take the rubbish out too, naturally :P