Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Team Tundra Swans

Mountains Rise Out of the Delta
Looking Back at the Peaks Along the Pack River
The Red Car Above the Delta
Identifying the White Splotches
Tundra Swans Among Ducks
The Dark Waters of the Delta
Mud Flats During Low Water
Gliding Swans
Where the Pack River flows into Lake Pend Oreille, mountains like rounded triangles rise out of the water. It's as if the Pack River delta is an opening to a gated lake. Turn around and look back at the Selkirks from where the Pack River originates and you'll see craggy, snowy peaks.

From this vantage point, HWY 200 (as in a paved, two-lane road) hugs winding curves through Hope, a boating community with docks and a seasonal floating restaurant. Beyond Hope is the Clark Fork River Delta. To the Kalispel who lived in the region, it is "Dark Waters."

Upon this flat of dark waters I saw white when we traveled to Montana the week before. Of course, my fearless driver acknowledged my comment and continued taking curves like he was driving our red Ford Fusion for a James Bond movie. He mumbled something about "pelicans." I scoffed.

So we drove out to see if the white splotches on dark waters were pelicans or snow geese. We both lost the bet. It's a migration of tundra swans.

The delta stretches like a great mud flat. Dams let out water in the fall to prepare for spring run-off. With so little snow pack, the deltas and lake might remain low. We need rain for this unseasonably dry rainy season. It hasn't halted the migration although the tundra swans may take pause longer with food readily available.

Tundra swans winter in northern Nevada, northern California and along the coast of Oregon and Washington states. Their breeding grounds are the far coastal regions of the tundras of Alaska and Canada. Thus the name, tundra swan.

Some call them whistling swans for their musical call; some say they yodel. I'm no expert, but as I walked down to the mud flat, I definitely heard a chorus of soft whistles. It was like hearing an elegant ball across the water. I could have stayed all afternoon, just listening. Until the car horn honked.

Some spouses have no appreciation for birds.

I shot more photos and watched the swans feed, dipping their long necks like poles into the water. In deeper pools they can dabble with nothing but tail feathers above the waterline. That's an extensive reach! They are twice the size of the Canada geese that grace Elmira Pond.

When tundra swans swim, they use their necks in the way I remember pumping on a swing to go higher and faster. Although this is only a stop-over, the tundra swans seemed paired up. Evidently they mate for life.

These swans typically linger only about four days before moving up the east side of Rocky Mountain corridor into Alberta, then west to British Columbia, north to the Yukon and west to the Kuskokwim Delta of Alaska where they will mate, incubate their eggs for a month and raise their young for another two months.

Some tundra swans stage their migration flights north and south right here, on the dark waters of the Clark Fork River. They are white splotches worth stopping to hear and see in March or October.

Part of the March Madness Series. Vote for your favorite March Team.


  1. What a lovely way to post op myself back into the world. Your swans are so neat. In the UK all swans belong to the Queen. Does Obama claim them in the US?

    1. What? That's crazy! The swans belong to the Queen? I think I'll quote Ralph Waldo Emmerson here:

      “We are taught by great actions that the universe is the property of every individual in it. Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate. It is his, if he will. He may divest himself of it; he may creep into a corner, and abdicate his kingdom as most men do, but he is entitled to the world by his constitution. In proportion to the energy of his thought and will, he takes up the world into himself.” (Emerson, 19)

      Obama doesn't own jack! On that lovely note, happy recovery! :-)

  2. Beautiful! And, yes, they are huge. (Canada geese are NOT small!)

    1. I know! I have three geese hanging out and they seem HUGE...then I read that the tundra swans are twice the size! I might have been remiss in my reporting. Do they also winter on the east coast? I get west coast biased and forget to inquire!

  3. Bear with me...I'm attempting o put together a "March Madness" series on each of the varieties of waterfolw, flocks and furry things that gather on Elmira Pond this time of year. More to come and then I'll link all the posts in one next Wednesday.

  4. How lovely that you took pause to appreciate this lovely part of nature, and share it with us. Thank you. It's not stop and smell the roses, it stop and listen to the swans. :)