Sunday, September 17, 2017 Cranes, and Swan Drama

Seward, Alaska

Saturday evening I rushed out to the head of the bay in response to a hot tip about SANDHILL CRANES. Apparently the storm had forced them down for the night. When I found them, the majority were busily feeding while a few stood guard, watching vigilantly for any sign of trouble. There was none, so I enjoyed the scene and quietly moved on.

These are the first Cranes I’ve seen in Seward this year. Other lucky people reported a 1000 cranes flying overhead on Monday and hundreds on Saturday. I’m always sorry to miss that grand sight and sound.

Today, I went back to see if they were still here. But the storm had passed and the Cranes took advantage of the calm, partly cloudy conditions to move on.

A MERLIN flashed overhead and landed on a driftwood log. SAVANNAH SPARROWS scattered ahead of me, and two chunky birds, Snipe? Dowitchers? flew up and back down into the sedges too quick to identify.

Five regal TRUMPETER SWANS floated serenely in the pond, two adults and three cygnets. They must be the resident Nash Road family, out to see the neighborhood. I had heard the cygnets were flying, but this was the first time I’d seen evidence.

I glimpsed three more adults through the vegetation surrounding a small pond a short distance away. I wondered if they were Daddy’s Girl and her parents. If so, that could make her a sibling of one of the new parents, and her parents the grandparents of the cygnets. Maybe. I also wondered if these eight swans would be tolerant now that the nesting season was over, and share the larger pond.
I didn’t have to wonder for long. I heard the cygnet parents trumpeting softly, calling back and forth. Hmmm. Something was up. I kept walking down the beach, out of sight to minimize any disturbance. After about 10 minutes, I saw in the distance, all five adult swans flying low over the bay. I think the cygnet parents headed straight for the threesome and chased them off their little pond and into the air.

One adult managed to catch up to another fleeing swan and nailed it in the rump. That must have hurt! Then they all landed, but not for long. With a great deal of trumpeting and loud splashing as their giant webbed feet struck the surface of the water, their powerful wings pumping, the chase was on! Back and forth! I couldn’t keep track of who was who or which was which. It was so exciting!

Finally, the threesome separated out and landed at what must have been an acceptable distance. The two victorious adults, still trumpeting loudly, approached each other and all but high-fived. They were so pumped! After congratulating each other, they decided to return to the big pond. Off they flew, right past the enemy Swans to the pond and landed.

Honking loudly, they called to the cygnets that had flown to the bay without my noticing. The 3 ½ month old cygnets took off and began to circle back to their parents. But when I looked back, the parents had also taken off, and had returned to attack the threesome again. It was a repeat performance! I couldn’t believe it!

The parents drove the threesome off while the cygnets circled around, uncertain of what to do. Finally, they landed out front in the bay, about where they had been before. This time, the parents, after they finished high-fiving, flew over to join their babies, still trumpeting in excitement. They landed and regrouped, then suddenly the whole family took off, heading for the Nash Road wetlands.

As they flew away down the bay, I saw two MORE adult Swans swim out from the creek. I have no idea who they are or where they came from. Ten Swans! What a busy place!

I was sorry my time here had run out. As I left, Daddy’s Girl and her parents floated serenely on the bay, perhaps wondering what the heck just happened. But knowing how fiercely protective these incredible parents have been for the past four generations, I was not surprised. Good job, mom and dad!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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