Monday, February 13, 2012

Tundra Swans

Last week, I learned that three Tundra Swans were hanging around in the Ausable Marsh State Wildlife Management Area, just south of Plattsburgh, New York. Tundra Swans are very unusual around here. They nest in the arctic in Alaska and the northern reaches of Canada. Most of them winter in the west, but a few head over to the Atlantic. No one knows why three of them have decided to hang out here for a while, but I suspect the lake caught their attention because of all the unusual open water this year. Or they just know a good lake when they see it.

Whatever the reason, I got over my cold in a hurry and organized a trip.  A friend of mine said in amazement, "Kari Jo, you're going to give up half your weekend to a possibly vain attempt to peer at three birds through binoculars?"

My response was a slightly more eloquent version of, "Hell, yeah!"

So my husband, his parents, and I headed across the lake on a ferry yesterday afternoon in temperatures that weren't much above zero, into a wind that literally felt like knives. It took us a few attempts to find the park because the sign had been taken down for the season, but within about thirty seconds of leaving the main road, we came upon a line of cars full of people with binoculars and spotting scopes trained on the water. My kind of folk.

And within another few moments, I had nailed species number 240 for my life list.

We spent about an hour watching the swans. There were three of them -- two adults and their immature offspring. Tundra Swans mate for life, and their young stay with them for a while. Our timing couldn't have been better. Soon after we arrived, the swans stopped feeding and began to bathe with much splashing and flapping, and then they stepped out onto the ice to preen their feathers into place. I took over 90 shots of them, periodically popping back into the van to warm up. These are my favorite:

As we first saw them, looking elegant. The immature is on the right.

Because they were eating aquatic plants below the surface, I got a lot of shots that looked like this.

Or like this.
"Really not your best angle, honey."

Then they began bathing and splashing.

The immature came up on the ice first and shook like a dog.

Then he got down to preening

Dad joined him.
Mom: "Guys, I'm still bathing! Quit staring at a lady!"

"Oops, sorry!"

"Jeez! What I don't go through!"

"Yeah, but you know I'm gorgeous!"
 "Do you notice I'm not looking at you?"
"God, parents!"

"I am so not looking at you! Even though I know you're doing the leg thing."

"On the other hand, there's a famous author with a camera over there, and she blogs a lot, so we'd better give her a nice shot, huh?"

Just for the record, it's impossible to tell the genders of Tundra Swans apart. (Well, for us to, anyway.) I just have an overactive imagination. But what else was I supposed to do with 90 shots of swans? And also for the record, these shots were all taken with my 300mm lens and then enlarged, so I was (obviously) not near enough to disturb them. (I love digital. You don't want to know how much money I used to spend on film. Yes, I developed my own. A darkroom used to be one of my favorite places.)

So after we bade the swans farewell, we were all eager to warm up in a restaurant in downtown Plattsburgh with my skeptical friend, who is probably no longer skeptical but convinced that I've lost touch with sanity. Then another ferry ride home. Yes, I stood at the railing and looked at the dark sky and the dark water and the lights on either shore, and thought lofty thoughts about swans and freedom and flying and how wicked cold my ears were getting.

All in all, a lovely day, well spent!

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