November 17 2012,. Hamilton Harbour, ON. Tundra Swans are back. They visit us twice a year: in early March, and again in November. The March visit is their first stop after a non-stop flight from their coastal wintering grounds in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, it’s usually quite brief. They’re on their way to their tundra breeding grounds and waste little time socializing. In November things are a little less urgent, they arrive when they’re pushed here and often hang around until driven further south by the promise of nasty weather; if mild enough a handful will spend the winter here.
They showed up just yesterday here at the west end of Lake Ontario. I’d heard they’d arrived so went looking for them on our large enclosed bay. It was quite early and everything had been touched by frosts, the water was calm and a haze lay across the entire bay veiling some of the uglier evidence of industry and commerce; quite pretty really.
I thought I could hear Tundra Swans, but just faintly. We have wintering Trumpeter Swans and year-round Mute Swans, and the latter, while mostly silent, do sometimes make a gentle snorting whistle that could, in a pinch and from far way, be taken for the soft “Whoow” of a Tundra Swan, and there were plenty of large white waterfowl to be seen so it was hard to be sure. I drove another block east, made my way down to the shore of the bay and there, as I’d hoped, were about twenty Tundra Swans. Most were feeding on aquatic weed, tipping up and paddling the air wildly to stay inverted. A quiet murmur passed between members of the flock; that was the distant sound I’d heard. Almost everything about Tundra Swans appeals to me, they were certainly my Bird of the Day even before a later encounter with a Screech Owl found sitting on its doorstep and a small squadron of male Hooded Mergansers resplendent like a bunch of 19th century Prussian army cadets with extravagant headgear.