Category Archives: tundra swans

Spring is here (more or less)

I heard tundra swans high overhead first thing this morning — our first of the year. Later in the morning , high, north-bound Vs of Canada geese were presumed to be migrants, as well. Steve saw a ring-billed gull fly over the hollow, too.

Our first spring arrival — meaning the earliest sighting of something included in our Spring Arrivals and Blooming Dates list — was a turkey vulture that soared right over the house around 12:45 p.m. on February 19. That’s just one day later than our earliest-ever TV, February 18, back in 1991.

A lot of people speak of the equinoxes and solstices as the “official” beginnings of the seasons whose names they bear, but this is nonsense: seasons are purely cultural constructs. The length and number of seasons can vary considerably depending on latitude and microclimate. Many parts of the world only have two seasons, for example — a wet season and a dry season. Moreover, several years ago, I heard one of the Penn State weather gurus on the local public radio station opine that, for our area, based on average temperatures and other indicators, the first day of the month in which an equinox or solstice occurs is generally pretty close to the true beginning of the season. So if I want to believe that the tundra swans’ fluting calls signaled the arrival of spring this morning, who’s to say I’m wrong?

The high today was around 55°F, depending on which thermometer you believe. True, our deepest snowfall of the year — some eight inches — was just two days ago. And if recent years are any guide, we can expect another couple of snows at least before the month is over. But those will be spring snows. The swans have spoken.




At 9:30 this morning, I watched the first tundra swans flying north over the hollow. I was walking on Black Gum Trail, which follows along Laurel Ridge about half-way between the road and the ridge crest, and had paused to watch a pileated woodpecker finding its breakfast in a dead limb of a nearby red oak. The pileated was hanging to the bottom of the limb, and I watched through the zoom lens of my camera as he tapped and fed, probably for carpenter ants. The swans were nearly silent and quite high up, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t stopped. They were strung out in a line of about 25 birds, with only one bird following the leader on the other side to form a very lopsided “V.”

This too will be entered on the graph-paper version of our Spring Arrivals list, which has now been affixed to the refrigerator in my parents’ house. For many years, we recorded the date we first saw migrant Canada geese, instead, but stopped around 2002 because so many Canada geese had stopped migrating altogether — it became difficult to tell the migrants from flocks of local geese moving between local lakes and fields. That was a completely new phenomenon for our area; there were no year-round resident geese around here until sometime in the early- to mid-90s. To compensate, we began keeping records on swans, instead. Like Canada geese, tundra swans tend to fly over sometime between February 20 and March 15.