The past week Eastern Point has seen a wonderful influx of wildlife, in addition to the beautiful creatures already wintering over and migrating through.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a great raft of Ring-necked Ducks joined the flock of Buffleheads and Mallards at Niles Pond. Five chunky American Coots have been there for over a week, and two female Ruddy Ducks have been spotted.
Fifteen Harbor Seals were sunning and basking on the rocks at Brace Cove on Wednesday, along with several Bonaparte’s Gulls that were diving and foraging in the waves. The increasingly less timid Lark Sparrow is still here, too.
The most enigmatic of Great Blue Herons criss crosses the pond a dozen times a day but, unlike last year’s fall migrating GBH, who allowed for a closer glimpse, this heron is super people shy. He has been here for about a week and was present again today.
This morning I watched the four beautiful Mute Swans depart over Brace Rock, in a southerly direction. Will they return? Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Perhaps they will return, or they could possibly have flown to a nearby location–further exploring our Island.
Leaving Niles Pond this morning and flying over Brace Cove.
Four exclamation points for four beautiful Mute Swans. They arrived yesterday afternoon. Thank you to my dear swan-loving friend Lyn Fonzo for the alert ❤
There don’t appear to be any brownish-gray adolescent feathers leading us to believe they are at least two years old. Young Mute Swans often join a flock, remaining until they are of breeding age, typically at about four years old.
I don’t think our visitors are familiar with people. A gentleman came to the water’s edge with a bucket of food for the ducks. The Swans showed no interest in the food and kept their distance.
All four Swans have black eyes. Mr. Swan, who is blue-eyed, has not been seen at all his usual haunts for many months. He was at least twenty-nine years old when last seen, which is a very, very, ripe old age for a Mute Swan not kept in captivity. Most wild Mute Swans only live ten to twelve years.
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!
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.
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 curved in. What on Earth 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 email@example.com. Thank you so much for any leads!
A few more of the Mute Swan family flying toward and over Thacher Island
A pair of swans was spotted at Niles Pond 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!
Note 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!
Don’t mess with Mama Swan!
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 Canadian 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.
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 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.
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 posts about the Mute Swan:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Eight Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) at Brace Cove, Gloucester