UPDATE ON THE THREE YOUNG SWANS

While out doing errands, I always hope to have time to take the “scenic route,” which usually means driving by one or more of our local bodies of water, whether sea, pond, marsh, or river. The day before I left for Mexico I was wonderfully surprised to spy the Three Graces swimming in a marsh on the other side of Cape Ann. There was still snow on the ground, but they were right at home foraging in the salt water marsh for vegetation.

Swans don’t migrate long distances, but move around from body of water to body of water within a region. These three siblings were most likely kicked out of their family and nesting area by the dad, as he is preparing to mate and nest with the mom to produce the next brood of cygnets. The Three Graces won’t be mature enough to mate and lay eggs for at least two more years and during this time, I imaging they are learning the lay of the land, where food may be plentiful and where may be a good place to nest. Swans are at their most vulnerable in these first few years of life. Hopefully at least one will survive and decide to make Cape Ann his/her future home!

THE YOUNG SWANS RETURN!

Three Young Graces Update No. 3

Although Niles Pond had refroze, I wasn’t expecting to see the young swans, especially after sunset. But there they were, all three, sitting in the near dark on the ice.

They were taking turns drinking fresh water from a small opening in the ice. I watched for a moment when suddenly all three stood. In unison, they took a running start across the ice and were quickly airborne, flying in a northwest direction.

Where had they been and where were they flying to when nearly dark?

 

FEATHERED FURY, FEATHERED GLORY – MR. SWAN, RULER OF CAPE ANN’S WATERWAYS, RETURNS

Three Young Graces Update No. 2

Niles Pond thawed, and so too was the knowledge that Mr. Swan would return. He is the bird-ruler of Cape Ann’s waterways, from Gloucester Harbor to Rockport Harbor, and vigilantly patrols all our local ponds and inlets. Mr. Swan does not take kindly to other swans in his territory. 

I checked in on the Three Graces at day’s end, and they were contentedly preening after a full day of eating.

Swanference

The following morning I returned and there was Mr. Swan, but no young swans. Although I did not see a battle take place, Mr. Swan’s behavior can only be described as victorious. Swans do a thing called busking when they want to appear big and bad and that is exactly what he was doing. Swimming with vigor and much greater speed than usual, he was patrolling one end of the pond to the other, with his feathers all busked out. It’s a swan’s way, and his territorial behavior is in part what has contributed to his longevity. Mr. Swan is more than thirty years old. I do so hope no one was injured, though.

Feathered Fury, Feathered Glory – Mr. Swan Busking

Perhaps the pond will freeze again, Mr. Swan will head back to Rockport Harbor, and we’ll see the Three Graces at Niles Pond once more.


Busking full speed ahead to the other side of the pond to see if the three young ones are hiding, and then taking a break after what must have been a demanding morning.

UPDATE ON THE THREE GRACES MUTE SWANS AT NILES POND


I’ve been calling the three young swans that arrived at Niles the Three Graces, but my husband reminds that they could also be the Three Amigos. It’s nearly impossible to tell whether a young swan is male or female without a DNA test. When they reach breeding age, at about four years old, the male’s blackberry (black protuberance above the bill) becomes swollen during mating season.

Our young swans are first hatch year, meaning this is their first year of life. They hatched last spring. Late winter is the time of year when Dad swan kicks the young swans out of the family group, to make room for the next brood.

The swans forage nearly nonstop at the pond vegetation. They don’t mind at all the dabbling ducks that feed adjacent to them. The ducks are stealing away smaller bits of vegetation left behind by the deeply diving swans. Periodically the youngsters pause to preen, but then hungrily resume eating.

Scenes from Niles Pond and Brace Cove while checking in on the Three Graces

Notice the young swans are all have black eyes. This is typical for swans in our area. Mr. Swan, on the other hand, has beautifully distinct blue eyes.

THREE GRACES – BEAUTIFUL YOUNG SWANS AT NILES POND!

A beautiful trio of young Mute Swans spent the day at Niles Pond foraging on pond vegetation and enjoying fresh water. When the fresh water ponds thaw, we see our local swans take a break from their salty harbor refuges. The Three Graces spent the entire day eating nearly nonstop, which suggests they are very hungry.

I believe the three young swans are not quite one year old. Their bills are pale, and brown first-molt feathers mix with incoming white feathers. It’s their first winter so if you see the young swans, please be kind.

Mr. Swan, too, has been enjoying the fresh water at Henry’s Pond. He’s so territorial that I hope he stays over in Rockport for a bit so the Three Graces can fortify at Niles.


Mr. Swan thawing at Henry’s Pond

THRILLING TO SEE SWANS FLYING OVER THE TWIN LIGHTHOUSES!

Friday afternoon, after the nor’easter, the sun came out just barely before the skies again darkened with a brief snow squall. I was driving along Atlantic Road during those fleeting in between moments when way off in the distance I spied a flock of birds, with the distinct shape of swans in flight. Swans fly with their long necks extended, unlike herons and egrets, which fly with their necks tucked in. What is Mr. Swan doing out in this wildly windy weather I thought. But it wasn’t Mr. Swan, it was an entire family of Swans! There were two adults and four cygnets. Stunning to see and very uplifting. They flew over the Twin Lights and then further and further until I could not see them any longer. 

 

The first and third swans are the adults, the second, fourth, fifth and sixth are the cygnets, or first-hatch year juveniles.The young swans will retain their grayish brown feathers until their second summer.

Please write and let me know if you saw the Mute Swan family on Friday afternoon. They were flying along the backshore at about 2:15. Or, if you live on the Northshore and know of any swan family with two adults and four youngsters, I would love to learn more about them. My email address is kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you so much for any leads!

Swans and wave crashing

A few more of the Mute Swan family flying toward and over Thacher Island

BREAKING: PAIR OF SWANS AT NILES AND HENRY’S PONDS!!

Pair Cape Ann Swans third year swans copyright Kim SmithA pair of swans was spotted at Niles Pond this morning by my friend Lyn. I stopped by the Pond at 8:15 to have a look. They were on the far side of Niles, getting ready to take off and was only able to take a few quick photos. The pair flew overhead in the direction of Henry’s Pond. After doing the podcast with Joey and the wonderful Gloucester Stage Company cast, I raced over to Henry’s. In the meantime, the two had returned to Niles, but were chased away by our Mr. Swan. As I arrived at Henry’s they flew in!

Cape Ann Swans copyright Kim SmithThe pair appear to be in their third year. This is evident by the patches of brown feathers and dullish pink bills, although the bill of the larger of the two is gaining a more coral-orange hue. Third year swan copyright Kim Smith copyNote both have black eyes, unlike our rare and beautiful blue-eyed swan. I am hopeful that Mr. Swan will find a new mate and if we are fortunate, this newly arrived on the scene pair will decide to make Cape Ann their home too!Pair Cape Ann Swans copyright Kim SmithIf you catch sight of swans at any of our area ponds or in the harbor, please write in and let me know. Thank you so much!

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

30Mute Swans and Cygnet, Henry’s Pond Rockport

Mute Swans typically bond for the life of both members of the pair. If one is killed or dies, the other will usually take a second mate. Mute Swans engage in an intimate courtship dance. The cob (male) will often begin by pulling up nearby twigs (perhaps to show he is a good nest-builder). The pair next bobs their heads together, stretching and intertwining their necks alongside and opposite to each other in a beautiful synchronized ballet.

EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING!

Mute swans Plum Island www.kimsmithdesigns.com 2016

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.

One year old Mute Swans Plum Island www.kimsmithdesigns.com 2016Quickly 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. 

 

NO GEESE ALLOWED!

Don’t mess with Mama Swan!

Mute Swan attacking ©Kim Smith 2015

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 Canada 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.

Do Any of Our Readers Know Why the Entire Swan Family at Henry’s Pond Has Disappeared?

Cygnets ©Kim Smith 2014GMG 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

Birds of Cape Ann: The Majestic Mute Swan

Mute Swan taking flight -2 ©Kim Smith 2014The 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 Swan taking flight ©Kim Smith 2014

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.

Swan food winter ©Kim Smith 2014Mute 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:

Where Do Swans Go in Winter?

Vibrant Throbbing Wingbeats

Niles Pond or Brace Cove

*   *   *

Birds of Cape Ann: Divers or Dabblers and the Green-winged Teal

Birds of Cape Ann: Buffleheads

Where Do Swans Go in Winter?

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 ~

Vibrant Throbbing Wingbeats

Niles Pond or Brace Cove

Vibrant Throbbing Wingbeats

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:

Read more:

Continue reading “Vibrant Throbbing Wingbeats”

Niles Pond or Brace Cove

Niles Pond Brace Cove ©Kim Smith 2013

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.

Niles Pond Brace Cove -2 ©Kim Smith 2013

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.

Niles Pond swans ©Kim Smith 2013

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.

Niles Pond Brace Cove Swans -4  ©Kim Smith 2013

Niles Pond Brace Cove swans -5 ©Kim Smith 2013

Eight Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) at Brace Cove, Gloucester