Swans bring their own white Christmas

Photo by Garry Brandenburg — Today’s image of swans was made at Sand Lake a few days ago where at least ten swans were resting along with several hundred Canada geese. My close up image of a pair of swans was made at the Green Castle Recreation Area near Ferguson. If you want to see white this Christmas, snow may be lacking (for now), but trumpeter swans will fill the gap for an outstanding wildlife moment.

TRUMPETER SWANS may be found near open water sources this time of year. And it is also possible to see them in the middle of an open picked corn field. Such was the case earlier this week while driving into Marshalltown. Out there, in the middle of a corn field not too far from West Summit Street, were two adult swans and two immature birds. I stopped. I photographed. I inspected them with binoculars, and I enjoyed watching their preening behavior, wing stretching, and feeding antics. Undoubtedly, this family of swans was using a resting/feeding time before moving on to other locations.

Other stops for these birds could be Sand Lake, with its 10 trumpeters already present. Or another site close by could be Green Castle where a pair of clipped T. swans reside. Each location offers a place to rest and feed. In fact, over the course of this winter, open water in the south silt pond at Green Castle may insure other waterfowl stopovers, and this site will be a prime check out point by human wildlife watchers.

Trumpeter swans have breeding territories in remote wetlands of Alaska, Canada and northern USA sites. Come wintertime, any open water sites may draw this bird so that a large number of them will just hang out, waiting for next spring, so they can disburse again northward to nesting territories. Wintertime may also find swans inhabiting the Des Moines River east of Lake Red Rock dam. Just be aware that this majestic big white bird is worth your time to seek out.

The Marshall County Conservation Board assisted several decades ago in a cooperative program with Iowa DNR to create a place for a captive pair of swans to nest. That site was the south silt pond at Green Castle. A pair of pinioned swans was brought to this site, and over the following years, they did have periodic success raising new swan cygnets. Those cygnets were not wing clipped. Some were recaptured and transported to wetland complexes in Arkansas.

The following spring, as free flying swans, the intent was for wild pairs to form and disburse to any location they found to their liking. All across Iowa, this plan worked very well. Now, a population of free flying trumpeter swans has pretty much filled many wetland habitats all over the Midwest. It was a successful conservation program.

There are at least 35,000 trumpeter swans continent wide now, and this success came from the last known individuals in 1935 when only 69 swans were observed. Now, there are three population focus points for T. swans — interior, Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain. Each is stable or still growing. Any wetland conservation project to develop or enhance wetlands for any waterfowl species is likely to have a side benefit for swans.

A NEW YEAR OF 2022 will be upon us next weekend. Yes, time goes fast when busy folks strive at home, at work, at play, and at social gatherings of all kinds. For wildlife enthusiasts, some of those gatherings can involve a lot or very few people. Still, in each case, outside activities in nature’s forests, wetlands, water sites, prairies at any county, state or federal property, is time well spent. So the following is my brief review and highlights from 2021.

Avid readers of Outdoors Today may remember those topics I wrote about. As you already know, any natural history, science based and fact based item may be offered. My task is to try and educate and inform you with information about our natural world and its outstanding environments, and I hope to convey via photographs what nature has to offer.

JANUARY: I noted an Iowan who was influential in getting federal legislation passed to protect wildlife. His name was John F. Lacey (1841-1913), and his work resulted in the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold.

FEBRUARY: Geological history informed us about earth’s glacial episodes over the past 2.6 million years. That number happens to be recorded in rock strata and deep ocean sediments that told scientists of 33 expansions of continental glacial ice caps interspersed with 33 interglacial warmer times. All these comings and goings of deep cold and warmer interludes makes natural cycles of long term climates a topic worthy of noting.

MARCH: Bald Eagles on their nests got my attention, and the attention of many others. Many of those nests were successful in raising new eaglets.

APRIL: A rookery for Great Blue Herons was the topic this time. The rookery is a collection of nests built by herons in close proximity to each other. Lots of eyes and ears of these birds makes a rookery a predator proof site.

MAY: Beaver work, and damage to trees, was noted at Green Castle. Park staff had to deal with removal of hazard trees so the public could safely ply the lake shoreline.

JUNE: Ruby-throated Hummingbird nests were discovered, and periodically checked for photography purposes, to keep track of this smallest of birds. And a few updates from Iceland told of the mid-Atlantic ridge volcanic zone having a new series of eruptions. Tourists flocked to Iceland to watch in awe as molten lava poured out of the ground.

JULY: Flowers at the Marietta Sand Prairie Preserve were featured. Colorful plant life in this native grassland is always a welcome sight.

AUGUST: The Iowa River was flowing, barely, due to drought-like conditions. The river flow did not reach quite as low as true drought years of 1977 or 1988, but it was close. I featured the difference between weather and climate so that readers would learn how to keep these two concepts in proper context.

SEPTEMBER: A Geology program was offered by geologist Phil Kerr, a native of Dunbar. He now is a research scientist at the University of Iowa, Iowa Geological Survey. He presented an outstanding program using map illustrations to tell of Iowa’s geologic past environments. Understanding the past is key to interpretations for our future.

OCTOBER: Robert Maharry, editor of the TR, interviewed me regarding my 30th anniversary of writing the outdoor column for the newspaper. Time flies by when one is doing things you like to do.

NOVEMBER: I told of the history of the Iowa River Wildlife Area, and I previewed things to come regarding pheasant season, deer season, fishing, and made notes of a moose wandering around far northwest Iowa. Successful female deer hunters were also featured.

DECEMBER: A story about John James Audubon, naturalist and painter, who had books printed illustrating birds of North America. Long after his passing, his original book set sold at auction for $9.6 million.

There you have it: a very brief outline from 2021. I fully expect 2022 will be similar, yet different, as Mother Nature offers her old content in a new way. Stay tuned for more Outdoors Today adventures next year.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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