Swan Song

I spent last week in a part of Minnesota with which I was quite unfamiliar.  My friend lives in Howard Lake, and we spent our time pre and post surgery there and in the environs around Hutchinson, Cokato, Waconia, and Winsted.  There is an arm of Howard Lake behind my friend’s apartment, and I noticed a pair of swans there amongst a flock of Canada Geese.  I also noticed many swans in other ponds around the area and flying around over head, and I thought “Where did all these swans come from?” I hope this is an indication of improving environmental health. I don’t remember swans anywhere in Minnesota before. They are gorgeous, although I understand they are nasty and aggressive.  I saw one once in Stratford, Ontario, taking a nap, standing up on one leg in the middle of a sidewalk right along the river. It was huge, and had its head tucked under its wing.

Sibelius has written some lovely music inspired by swans. Check out his 5th symphony as well as the Swan of Tuonela. I think Saint-Saen’s cello piece is beautiful, but doesn’t reflect their aggressiveness.

What are your favorite birds? Have any swan stories?

62 thoughts on “Swan Song”

  1. The only swans I see here are the tundra swans migrating. I’m curious, though, how your friend ended up in Howard Lake. Since she is your friend from childhood, I gather it’s not her home town and I wouldn’t think it has that much to offer.

    When I was young and through my teenage years, my parents had a cabin on Lake Waverly, which is only a few miles from Howard Lake and a few of my friends from those days still live in the area, although most of them I haven’t seen for fifty years.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Howard Lake certainly hasn’t much to offer, except it is a fairly straight shot to her full-time job as a security guard at General Mills, and to Winsted, where she works part-time as a hired hand at a hobby farm. The hobby farm employers pay her rent in exchange for her services.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The birds in the photo are mute swans. Mute swans are native to Europe, not the US. Mute swans were brought here, probably when the original trumpeter and tundra swan populations were wiped out. I can’t tell tundra swans from trumpeters, but mute swans are identified by their orange bills. Tundra and trumpeter swans have black bills.

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        1. Two Trumpeters did a “flyby” over my campsite in the BWCA a few years ago. So close and so loud I heard their wings whooshing, then I looked up and saw them passing overhead not even 20 feet up. Awesome experience.

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  2. Baboon wildlife guy checking in here. Renee, I’d guess the birds you saw were trumpeter swans. They mass in big numbers in north central Minnesota about now. This is, as you hoped, a wonderful success story. These swans, once common, were extirpated in the 19th century, mostly by market hunting. After faltering attempts to restore the birds starting in 1960, managers got it right. The program is now a model of how wildlife restoration can succeed. If you are looking for inspiration in nature, you could do not better than this bird.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I am rather partial to hawks and owls. We have lots of hawks in town, and I spotted Great Horned owl the other morning. There is a little Merlin who speeds into our large spruce trees in search of smaller birds to eat. It causes quite a to do among the other birds.

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        1. Kestrels used to carry the ugly name of sparrowhawk. Birders pressed for a change for two reasons. There is a sparrowhawk in Eurasia, and this is not that bird. Even more than that, modern biologists avoid pejorative names like “sparrow hawk” and “chicken hawk” that were an implied excuse to kill predatory birds or mammals. After all, humans are the ultimate killers of chickens. We talked last week about Also Leopold. He was a leader in the change of attitudes about predators.

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        1. I’ve begun commenting on YouTube videos on Sundays. There is a new channel by a woman in the UK (whose name I don’t know). She posts mostly about falconry, although she is famous for videos with her rather goofy raven Fable. She’s good.

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  4. OT: My sister wrote last night to tell me that her daughter, Mary, is on the front line of the COVID war. Mary recently qualified as a nurse. We wrongly assumed she would be in no danger, for she trained as a burn nurse. Turns out she is working 12-hour days, seven days a week, dealing with the new virus in HCMC. Wish her well!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. My favorite bird call is the White-Throated Sparrow. They used to hang around at our Robbinsdale place while migrating. I haven’t heard them down here in Winona yet, but have been told they come through here:

    I also love the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, which reminds me of a teenager with its hat on backwards…
    https://www.google.com/search?q=red+bellied+woodpecker&client=firefox-b-1-d&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=LsxMA9vO-NRA1M%253A%252Ch6N2G18ih2ko8M%252C%252Fm%252F01zpxn&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kThACUFbvpvt1G0W4k0Y7Oav2YteA&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjywLWEzcfoAhWNZ80KHTMrCoAQ_B0wFXoECA4QAw#imgrc=LsxMA9vO-NRA1M:

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  6. Can’t post right now anywhere. See if this works: Side note to current life: A home with two teenagers online schooling and two adults working from home does not have enough bandwidth in many locations. Dropping TV and such helps.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hey- We’re almost in the same boat. Kelly is using her phone as a hotspot for her work data because our internet is slow. I’m trying not to interfere. She’s moved into the office, which is OK… I’ll just work there on weekends I guess.

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  7. Oh, and a swan story – At Iowa State in Ames, IA, there is a lagoon next to the Memorial Union (where we used to play bridge) called Lake Laverne, which hosted two swans that had been christened Lancelot and Eleanor. I just found a little history about them:
    https://www.foundation.iastate.edu/s/1463/giving/interior.aspx?sid=1463&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=4350&ecid=4350&crid=0&calpgid=1284&calcid=4346
    …which states: “One Iowa State tradition is that if you walk around Lake LaVerne three times in silence with your beloved, you are destined to be together. ” I never heard this while on campus.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’ve been thinking about this last couple of hours trying to get it down to one and I can’t. I am very fond of cranes, because they seem so exuberant and joyful to me. I love the dancing. But I am also a big fan of hummingbirds. They’re so pretty and the fact that they do what physics says they can’t is amazing to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. 1. Loons
    2. Any kind of raptor but especially eagles
    3. Bluebirds (rare, so it’s very special to see one.)
    4. Cardinals–love their song
    5. woodpeckers because I’m always amazed that their brains don’t turn to jelly from pounding their head into trees a thousand times a day.
    . . .
    . . .
    . . .
    and last on the list . . .
    1,000,000,000,000,000,000. Canada goose–far too many of those flying vermin crap machines. Can’t go near any body of water in summer in my area without having to dodge green turds with every step. 😦

    Chris in O-town

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    1. I was probably fifty before I saw my first bluebird, but because of campaigns to encourage them with bluebird houses on fenceposts, etc., I’ve seen several in recent years.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Saw my first bluebird on a golf course in Illinois more than 20 years ago. I was awestruck. I think I’ve seen only four or five since then. I think my golf course has put up bluebird houses in their habitat on certain spots of the course.

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  10. I picked up 40 baby chicks from the post office today. They’re all looking good so far.
    10 Americana (the blue and green shell layers)
    10 Blue Laced Red Wyandotte (Really pretty birds – red with blue tips)
    10 Barred Rock (Brown layers, black polka dots – good birds)
    10 Saphire Gem (Brown layers – light grey / white – new for us this year).

    Liked by 5 people

    1. A nice thing about mountain bluebirds is that they are generally tamer than eastern bluebirds (which is the bluebird east of the Mississippi). Mountain bluebirds are easier for people to approach, photograph and feed.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Although I’ve written several books about pheasants, my favorite bird is probably the common loon. In this case, it isn’t so much “the bird” I love as the bird in its habitat. As a kid from central Iowa, I was beguiled by the sound of loons calling across the waters in the evening. Still sends a shiver up the spine.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. On my morning walks lately, I think I’ve been hearing ruby- crowned kinglets. They always crack me up because they’re the tiniest birds with the biggest song.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Winter Swans
    by Owen Sheers

    The clouds had given their all –
    two days of rain and then a break
    in which we walked,

    the waterlogged earth
    gulping for breath at our feet
    as we skirted the lake, silent and apart,

    until the swans came and stopped us
    with a show of tipping in unison.
    As if rolling weights down their bodies to their heads

    they halved themselves in the dark water,
    icebergs of white feather, paused before returning again
    like boats righting in rough weather.

    “They mate for life” you said as they left,
    porcelain over the stilling water. I didn’t reply
    but as we moved on through the afternoon light,

    slow-stepping in the lake’s shingle and sand,
    I noticed our hands, that had, somehow,
    swum the distance between us

    and folded, one over the other,
    like a pair of wings settling after flight.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. I always go to Rieck’s Lake in western Wisconsin in the fall to try to catch some tundra swan action as they migrate south in the fall. They used to congregate on Rieck’s Lake by the hundreds, but over time the habitat changed, and it’s no longer one of their favorite spots. They’re a rare sight on that lake now.

    When I saw them in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it sounded something like this…

    Liked by 5 people

    1. That video reminds me of my last year at SIU. A visiting professor from Germany and his wife were looking for suggestions for things to do. Wasband and I took them out to an area near Carbondale where lots of migrating bird were congregating. Thousands of them. I no long recall what king of birds they were, though I know they were big, possibly swans. It was truly awe inspiring to be out there, surrounded by all of these large birds, that somehow took to the wing, unprompted by us.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. My recollection of the years that I went to see the swans in nice, warm calm weather, it was sort of unremarkable. The birds would float quietly on the surface of the water. But the years when the weather was cold and windy, the bird were restless, and they’d take off in groups, calling and whooping, circling overhead, and then settling down again, as if they couldn’t quite decide to go further south.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Some friends here keep track of when they’re migrating through here, and they do treks to see them – I could let you know in the fall when that happens – since this spring you’re probably not going anywhere.

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