Nine Swans a-Swimming
After checking in with my elbow doctor at Anna Jacques Hospital in Newburyport, I took a drive along the road to Plum Island. I only meant to stay for a few minutes as I was planning to hurry on back to work on current projects but within moments of being there, a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk was spied circling around. It was too tempting and I desperately wanted to stay longer and photograph and film but turned right around and headed back over the causeway. Halfway across a bevy of some sort of large white avian creature caught my eye–could it be–yes, it was a large flock of swans! They were feeding on the seaweed and seagrass along the Merrimack River shoreline.
Quickly finding a place to park I got out my gear and with a wide swathe of marsh grass dividing me from the swans, I tried to get as close to the water’s edge as possible. There were NINE swans in all, two adults and seven almost year-old swans. So much for getting back quickly. And was I ever pleased with my rule never to leave the house without cameras.
A passing woman from the neighborhood out walking said that this was the first time she had seen the swans at the river’s edge in over two years. For my swan film, footage of one year old swans was needed, and here were seven! Every cloud has a silver lining as I never would have been on Plum Island today if not for elbow injury.
Don’t mess with Mama Swan!
Mute Swans are extraordinarily powerful birds and I have seen them turn on a dime, especially at this time of year when the cygnets are beginning to hatch. The above Canadian Goose tried to make a landing but was immediately rebuffed, in no uncertain terms. Several times since, I have observed geese circling overhead, but as soon as the swan is seen, they immediately change course.
GMG Reader Denise Penta writes in the comment section of a previous GMG post “Exterminate All Swans” by 2015:
June 2, 2014
“In Rockport, MA across from Pebble Beach I enjoyed a male and female mute swan along with their 4 pens. Two days later, I returned to take more photographs and they were gone. I have asked the regular walkers in that area if they have seen them and to my dismay, they disappeared. At the same time, the ducks has 5 babies and now there are only 4. I also noticed many round indentures in the sandy water near the shore and wonder if an animal frolicked about consuming some ducks. I miss the swans terribly. I also drove around the waters where they are found throughout the summer, but to no avail.
Then after reading several articles, including this one, I learned what is occurring more frequently is that of hunting and removal by state and federal wildlife officials. State and Federal wildlife officials are removing Mute Swans and killing them so that they can open new habitats to introduce the larger Trumpeter Swan species which will in the next few years be used as a Trophy Waterfowl for hunting purposes. Wildlife budgets are experiencing huge deficits and now wildlife officials are trying to enhance these budgets by enticing hunters through Trophy Waterfowl which will greatly increase hunting and the cost of hunting permits.
We have been fighting with other entities to stop this killing and have successfully worked with legislators in New York to introduce legislation to stop the killing of Mute Swans in New York until wildlife officials can present true research instead of the false basis for killing the swans that have been perpetuated upon the taxpayer. Yes, the taxpayer is funding this killing and reintroduction of the Trumpeter Swans so that a few of the population can enjoy them by killing them.
I would like to know who in God’s name gave these people permission to plan the killings and replacements? The government does not have an all-rights to nature and without votes from the public, there should be great protests to such an elimination. I would be the first one with a sign if I find the government removed our beloved swans.”
Addendum from Denise: “I apologize, I clicked send before placing quotations from the source that I got the information from, so here is the site link to where I got the information.” http://www.stanley-park-swans.com/cgi-bin/ask/index.pl?read=7412
The extraordinarily powerful wings and torso of the Mute Swan ~ click to view larger
The above photo is a lucky capture as I was actually filming the Gadwalls behind the swan. When the swan began to lift out of the water I quickly turned my attention toward it. The first two photos are the same; the first is cropped, the second uncropped so that you can see the tremendous scale of the swan’s body and wings in relation to its environment. The Mute Swan is the second heaviest waterfowl, second only to the Trumpeter Swan. In observing swans, I marvel in nature that a creature this heavy can soar majestically through the clouds and swim so gracefully through water.
Mute swans feed primarily on submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation and a small percentage of their diet also includes frogs, small fish, and insects. Because swans feed in deep water they do not compete with smaller waterfowl such as ducks. It is thought that food is made more readily available to ducks because the swans do not eat all the food they pull up. This seems logical and factual from my own observations at our local ponds and marshes. I very often see a wide range of waterfowl congenially feeding with the Mute Swans.
Mute Swan feeding on submerged vegetation at Niles Pond
Note ~ Mute swans, which are a nonnative species, do compete directly for food with North American native Trumpeter Swans, in regions where Trumpeter Swans are indigenous (Trumpeter Swans are not native to Cape Ann).
For more photos, information, and video see previous GMG posts about the Mute Swan:
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A reader emailed inquiring as to where do the Niles Pond swans go during the winter months. The Niles Pond swans are Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and they are neither mute nor migratory. Mute Swans do not fly south in the true sense of a great migratory distance traveled, but do move around between bodies of water, and may move to a slightly warmer region.
Mute Swans swans grunt, snort, and hiss and their wingbeats make a beautiful throbbing sound when flying. See previous GMG posts about the Niles Pond Mute Swans ~
Several weeks ago in one of my posts about Niles Pond at Risk, I wrote about the beautiful Mute Swans at Niles. A reader wrote requesting a description of a phrase that I used, the “vibrant throbbing wingbeats” of the Mute Swan. I have shot hours of B-roll for both my Black Swallowtail and Monarch films at Niles Pond and at Brace Cove, so much so that I am making a mini film about Niles Pond. In organizing the Niles footage, I discovered some good audio of the swans throbbing wigbeats, filmed at sunrise.
The swans often take flight in unison, circling round and round the pond before returning. I patiently wait and wait and sometimes they don’t return, and as has happened more times than I care to say, while I am packing up my gear, they return and then I miss the shot for not being patient enough! Other times they will take flight and head over to feed at Brace Cove. A wedge of swans flying overhead is beautiful to observe, although a challenge to hold in my camera’s lens. Reviewing the footage I heard myself frequently cussing at the mosquitoes because their bite causes me to jag the camera sharply and then I lose sight of the swans. But one especially lucky dawn in September, I did manage to capture several flights.
Isn’t the music so swan-like? The composition is called “The Swan,” written by Camille Saint Saint-Saëns, and is the 13th Movement in a suite of 14 of the humorously themed Carnival of the Animals, Zoological Fantasy for 2 Pianos and Ensemble. See below for more about Carnival of the Animals from allmusic.
Watch on Vimeo if you prefer:
An embarrassment of riches ~ Whether dawn or dusk, when standing on the footpath between Niles Pond and Brace Cove, sometimes I can’t decide which direction to point my camera. When that happens I focus the video camera in one direction and turn and face the opposite direction with the still camera.
This batch of photos was taken on a chilly afternoon in early January, looking first toward the pond, and then heading down to the beach at Brace Cove after a wedge of eight Mute Swans flew overhead and landed in the cove.
The bevy was comprised of six cygnets and parents. The bill of the adult Mute Swan is vivid red-orange whereas the cygnet’s bill ranges in shades from dark gray through muted browns. A black knob at the base of the cob’s (male) bill bulges prominently during mating season; the rest of the year it is often difficult to distinguish pen from cob. Anyone who has ever encountered a hissing, snarling, gnarling, and whistling Mute Swan wonders why they are called mute. Mute Swans lack the vocal trumpeting when compared to other members of the genus. The most beautiful sound the Mute Swan makes is the vibrant throbbing of their wingbeats in flight. I believe this sound is unique to Mute Swans. Click photos to view larger.
Eight Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) at Brace Cove, Gloucester