Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Living With Tundra Swans

About 5 PM I loaded my dog Ruby into the 6-wheeler and drove down to the big aircraft hanger to close one of the big sliding doors, which I had left open to allow the interior to dry up some.  The northeast wind had been picking up all day and now that it was doing 18-20 knots, I didn't want the door to shake loose and get broken if the wind continued to build during the night.

As I pulled up in front of the hanger, I realized that the Tundra Swan family had been feeding in the ditch that runs along the outside of the runway.  They were starting to climb out onto the runway, and Ruby started barking.  After quieting her, I quickly shut the hanger door, and then slowly turned the rig around so as not to frighten the birds and headed the half mile back to the house. The male was airborne when I started back but the female was still standing on the edge of the runway with the three cygnets.   I figured she would either move the cygnets back into the river, which was only 50 meters from the edge of the runway, or lead them off to the pond system north of the buildings and runway. 
Imagine my surprise when Ruby and I pulled up in front of the house and two big swans TUSW3_3801 passed low overhead. Both adults had followed us to the house and when we stopped at the house they circled several times in formation.  They were just flying above the roof of the house and a couple times they rode the air currents around the end of the house, almost playfully. It reminded me of when the ravens would ride the current off the end of the house,diving and playing with each other.  The swans were riding the currents and twice the female acted like she was going to grab the male's tail, like they do when chasing other swans out of their territory, often trying to pull them out of the air.  I have seen a few individuals loose tail feathers if they weren't quick enough to dodge or pull away from the attacker.   Once these swans seemed sure that we were not going any further, they flew off going up river away from where the cygnets had been left.

I made a quick run back to the hanger to see where the cygnets had gone.  They were making good time across the tundra away from the river and runway to the ponds about 1/2 mile away. I turned around and hurried back to the house and just as I was pulling up to the garage door one of the adult swans went by, headed back to the cygnets.
I have never had our local swans follow me before when I have encountered them while they were feeding along the runway or river. This pair has had its territory around our homestead for 4 years now so they are quite used to the activities around our place and their nest site is just over a half mile up river of the house.

I have seen non-breeding swans in June follow a grizzly bear as it wandered past where they were feeding  and as the bear swam the river channel the whole group of 30 swans  followed, staying about 40 meters behind the bear.  When the bear reached the other side and ambled down the sand spit the swans stopped in shallow water but continued to call until the bear was about 1/2 mile away,then the whole flock swam back to their feeding spot.  I have also watched Sabine’s Gulls, Arctic Terns, and geese escort golden eagles out of the nesting area. They follow the eagle staying off to the side and slightly higher and all are calling and scolding the raptor till it gets far enough away from the nesting area that they feel safe enough to return to nesting duties.  But this is the first time I have had  swans escort me away from their young. 




Nest  from the Tundra Swans that nested near our home this year.







Cygnets just out of the nest.







Cygnets are growing up, but still have a ways to go before fledging and heading south for the winter.





Swan family sleeping edge of our lake not far from the house, view out kitchen window.

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Arctic Smoke Signals by James W. Helmericks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.