Saturday, September 17, 2011

Trumpeter Swans at Montezuma NWR in upstate NY

Bill and I were at a family gathering in Michigan, driving straight through on the way there, but taking two days driving back. We spent a night in Seneca Falls and while Bill enjoyed a leisurely muffins-and-coffee motel-style breakfast I visited the Montezuma NWR nearby, a sweeping expanse of shallow marsh land right next to the interstate. A large flock of Canada Geese were feeding on the meadow around the visitor's center, but a little further off I found a small flock of grazing white swans.

I didn't really find out what kind of swans I was seeing until I got a good look at my photos on my computer. and then decide were these four birds the rare Trumpeter Swans or the more common Tundras? Both have black bills and black leg. They look very similar, although if seen side-by-side the Trumpeter is larger.

They are distinguished only from each other by subtle differences in bill and head shape.
The culmen, the line along the upper ridge of the Trumpeter's bill, is straight  whereas in the Tundra's it's concave. The Tundra's head is dome-shaped, whereas the Trumpeter's is flat. The black base of the bill envelopes the eye in the Trumpeter whereas in the Tundra it's tangential, often containing a yellow spot in the lores. The border between forehead and bill is V-shaped in the Trumpeter and U-shaped in the Tundra.

The upper edge of the lower mandible has a salmon red border which makes the bird look like it's wearing lipstick.

Trumpeter Swan Call recorded by Taylor Brooks, xeno-canto Cat. Nr. XC41300

The Trumpeter Swan was common and widespread when Europeans first came to settle in North America but was then hunted almost to extinction for its skin and primary feathers. In 1935 only 69 individuals were known to exist, until isolated populations were discovered in Alaska and Canada. With conservation the population has by now expanded to 34,000 individuals according to a continent-wide survey in 2005.

BNA Online:  Distribution of the Trumpeter Swan in North America.

. The Trumpeter Swan Society is a great resource for more information on this rare bird.

Regrettably I missed the spectacle of the birds taking flight as they were gone when I returned to the visitor's center after my drive around the refuge.

It was a good trip, no matter that I had my small Canon Powershot S95 and a battery pack with sync cable for our iPhone stolen from our car - total value $450. We were guests at a large party in a secluded neighborhood. Cars were parked in a long row along the curb. In the confusion one of us forgot to lock the car. Fortunately the thief did not find the Garmin GPS  behind the driver's seat, with "Grapes of Wrath" on it from Audible -  fantastic book, fantastic reader, about people with great grit escaping the dust bowl, the depression...  Nor, more importantly, did they find my workhorse, the Nikon with the long lens, well hidden in the trunk of the car.

I am watching Craigslist and eBay, but so far nothing. It hurts! For now no landscape shots, no close-ups...

Thanks for visiting. Please leave a comment.


  1. Beautiful birds to see Hilke and lovely images.
    Bill doesn't know what he's missing...

  2. Great shots Hilke!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  3. Lovely photos of the swans, I love birding the wildlife refuges. Sorry about your camera being stolen. Have a great weekend!

  4. Nice shots and info Hilke~Thats rotten that your camera was stolen..but I guess you are quite lucky they didnt find you other goodies.
    Happy Birding! Hope to see you this Saturday! 7am sharp :)

  5. Oh man I am so sorry to hear about your stolen goods, but glad you are looking on the bright side! Awesome shots... I get super confused when trying to pick Trumpeters out of huge flocks of Tundras...

  6. Hi Hilke

    To bad about your camera getting stolen. You got some lovey shots of the swans and I enjoyed reading about the field marks.

    All the best.


  7. Great information on the Swans but sorry to hear about your misfortune. Can't trust anyone these days it seems.

  8. That swan would be a fantstic lifer for me! Nice to see these... I'm sorry about the robbery.... such nasty people in the world!

  9. Great photos of the swans and interesting diagnostic features. Sorry about the theft of items from your car but glad some things were not found.

  10. Wonderful serendipity to find that beautiful bird on an unplanned birding opportunity. Fabulous pictures -- sorry about your other camera.

    The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite book. (My kids worry about me, because they think its so sad, but I love what it says about the human spirit.)

  11. Such rotten luck to lose equipment to a thief. Good save on the Nikon though, losing that would have been devastating.
    I did not realise Trumpeter swans had such a narrow scrape with extinction. I saw two this summer in Michigan. Once again your knowledge is interesting and useful.
    It's always fun visiting with you Hilke!

  12. Hi there - have stuff stolen makes you feel really powerless - and angry!

    Interesting story about working out what type of swan you saw - I often find myself doing the same thing - and you can be sure that the "clincher" field mark is missing, over exposed or blurred!

    Cheers SM

  13. great shots. I have seen neither of them. They don´t come to my part of the world.

  14. Fantastic post with excellent information on the swans Hilke and perfect photos to illustrate the field marks of this magnificent bird! Thanks for adding the sound file too. I think the calls are a very important part of birding.

  15. They are so lovely and beautiful!

  16. Have only seen swans a few times... never enough! They entrance me. Thanks for sharing, Hilke, though sorry to hear about your stolen equipment!

  17. These are wonderful captures! The Swans are beautiful birds!

  18. Hilke, Thanks for the cool shots, info plus the recording of their calls.It is clear how they got their name! Maybe one day I will get to see them with my own eyes.
    Dang...hope you can recover those items.:(

  19. It always pays to stow away your valuable items out of sight. Great sighting of the trumpeter swans. The nearest thing to them that I have seen is the Icelandic 'singing' swan, as the locals called them. I just looked it up and it is actually the Whopper swan.
    Hilke I do the same as you. While himself is thill sleeping I'm out and away taking my camera for a walk.

  20. Hike, so sorry about your camera! It is a bloggers worst nightmare! So glad they did not get it all!

    Wonderful post about the swans and the details about the differences. Well done and what a find!

  21. Many thanks for your comments. I am very grateful for you taking the time to share your thoughts and insights with me.


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