Monday, March 27, 2017

A long way from the tundra

I spent Friday and Saturday (24 & 25 March) at the Michigan Science Teachers Association (MSTA) annual conference in Novi, MI.  On Friday I presented two programs titled "Michigan Mammals" and "Michigan Trees".  On Saturday I spent several hours manning a booth for the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE).

Yesterday (26 March) I decided to drive into Mt. Pleasant to drop off the materials that I had taken to Novi to use in my presentations.  On the way to Mt. Pleasant I noticed a flock of large birds flying over the road and landing in a field of corn stubble.  I was expecting Canada Geese (Branta canadensis); it is common to find them in fields, feeding on waste corn.

I was not expecting to see Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus).

I was especially not expecting to see hundreds of Tundra Swans!

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me - violating the First Rule of Photography.  I though for a minute about returning home, but decided to continue on to Mt. Pleasant.  When I returned home, about an hour later, there were even more swans in the field.   I rushed home to retrieve my camera and drove back to the site.

I parked along the side of the road and began to photograph from inside my truck.  Small flocks continued to arrive while I sat there.

By the time I left, there were approximately four to five hundred swans on the ground, feeding on corn and posturing to impress mates or intimidate rivals.  I made this estimate by counting the number of swans in a section of the field and multiplying that by the approximate length of entire flock.  Most of the swans had the pure white plumage of adults, but some still had the grey tint of immature birds (especially on the neck and head).  In addition to the swans, there were also approximately one hundred Canada Geese in the field.


Usually I only see flocks this size at the Maple River State Game Area near US-127.  Usually they are far out in the water away from the highway, with no way to see them up close.

When I drove by the field again this morning all of the swans were gone - but we did see a few in another field closer to Mt. Pleasant.  It was really exciting to have the opportunity to see and photograph these birds. 

UPDATE:  Right now (27 MAR at 9:00 AM) there is a flock (approximately 100 swans) in the field west of the Soaring Eagle Casino. 

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