Sunday, October 6, 2013

Warbler Migration's Swan Song

Toward the end of September I took my family on one last camping trip to Minnesota's St. Croix State Park. I did my best to spend undistracted time with my loved ones, but the final push of warbler migration was happening all around me, and it was impossible to not be watching the trees.  Warblers and vireos are my favorite birds to pursue, but seeing them is bittersweet since their fall migration is wrapping up.  There was not a lot of variety of warblers this particular weekend, but I did see American Redstarts, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Palm Warblers.

Yellow-rumped Warbler at St. Croix State Park in Minnesota

Palm Warbler at St. Croix State Park in Minnesota
After the weekend, it was back to the busy life of work and little kids.  Birding would have to wait until the next weekend.  When that next weekend rolled around I knew I wanted to get out birding, but I was stumped as to where to go or what to even look for.  Fall migration is starting to slow down. Shorebird activity has nearly dropped off completely.  The warblers and vireos aren't as abundant as they were just a couple weeks ago.  So I went birding with no real plan.  I decided I would head to the local sewage ponds.  Maybe I'd find an American Pipit or perhaps a Bonaparte's Gull.  It was a starting point anyway.

En route to the sewage ponds, two large white birds on a slough caught my eye.  We have lots of American White Pelicans in our area, but as I cruised by at 65 MPH, I could tell these birds looked different.  I circled back and was pleased to see two Trumpeter Swans.  Trumpeter Swans nest in our area and aren't always migrants.  I see them every so often, but their beauty and size is always captivating.  Even non-birders are entrhalled with these magnificent birds. The Trumpeter has also been a special bird to me ever since my son and I read E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan a couple years ago. Imagine how thrilled we were when we later learned they are regulars in our area! Needless to say, it was a special find on this day that had no real birding objective.

Trumpeter Swans and Mallards - West Central Minnesota

The size of the Trumpeter is incredible!

Trumpeter Swan and Mallards

Most of the time I saw this when I watched this pair:

With those long necks, they had no problem feeding off the mucky bottom of this slough.

Trumpeter Swan and Mallard

After watching them for a little bit, it was time to get to those sewage ponds where I had no expectations but was excited for whatever bird surpises awaited me.  We got there and saw enormous flocks of the usual Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls.  But there were seven gigantic white blobs on the ponds - more Trumpeter Swans! This was turning out to be the bird of the day.

Trumpeter Swans and Canada Geese at a Sewage Pond
A Trio of Trumpeters 

Is that a Cackling Goose? Nope, just a Canada next to the enormous Trumpeters!
Trumpeter Swans bucking the strong prairie winds
It is incredible to see this bird do so well as it was once considered endangered.  I often forget that fact as I'll see them flying over the house or sitting on a pond by the road when I'm out driving.  Despite those frequent sightings, it was a thrill to see nine of them today! I no longer was bummed about the absence of warblers and vireos.  In fact, these swans have me fired up for waterfowl migration.  And then, the southward migration of the winter finches and northern owls won't be long after that!

Josh Wallestad has created a website to help birders across the country connect with each other, called Birding Across America. He also writes about his birding adventures with his 6-year-old son, Evan, at A Boy Who Cried Heron.


  1. Fine!!!. I would like to be there to take pictures.. Love it.

  2. The Trumpeter Swan is an awesome bird and sighting. Great post!

  3. Oh what a joy it must have been to see all of those stunning Trumpeter Swans. Wonderful photographs! Pretty warblers too!