Since moving to Iowa some years ago we added the November tradition of visiting areas along the Upper Mississippi River where Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) may be resting and foraging in preparation for the push to the East Coast. Many swans winter in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Virginia coast. Some years the visits are in early November before the river freezes. We especially enjoy the sightings on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend if the backwaters and sloughs are still open. In addition to the Mississippi Flyway, there are swans that migrate along the West Coast to winter in the western U.S. and Canada.
This year we again stopped at the overlook just south ofÂ Brownsville, Minnesota on Thanksgiving day. Thousands of swans were resting in the shallows and ephemeral islands in the middle of the river at the top end of Pool 8. The Upper Mississippi River is segmented by locks and dams forming the numbered pools. Pools 4 through 8 and sometimes 9 are traditional resting areas in the migration.
There were some swans along the west edge of river out from the Brownsville overlook. Several small family groups came close enough for long lens cropped portraits. The low winter sun angle and the vivid blue sky about 2 p.m. created lovely backgrounds for these two. The bluffs behind us started shadowing the river’s edge and the shadows were quickly moving toward the two family groups represented here. Both sets had one remaining offspring. There was a family group a bit further away with three immatures.
This younster has a very pink bill which is on its way to becoming black. It is still quit gray colored with a browner head. The head is somewhat brown from foraging for underwater roots, bulbs and foliage. If one looks closely, there are drops coming off its bill and making a small splash. Young Tundra Swans turn to white by next April when they will be migrating back to the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska.
The white adults were very reflective and required stopping down a bit to keep the images from “blowing out” or having no Raw information to create light colored pixels when processed.Â As a result the water was weighted toward the left side of the histogram. The immature was a light middle tone so the histogram was weighted toward the right. Neither is right or wrong but what was correct for each subject.