A Pleasant Surprise: Migrating Tundra Swans Overhead!

Tundra Swan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Tundra Swan in flight (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
One of the things I most enjoy when I’m hunting is watching all the other wildlife I see.  I thought you might enjoy hearing about the wildlife I saw during the just-closed two-week deer season near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Except for deer, which seem to know where I am and give me a wide berth, the other wildlife ignore me altogether. Well, there was a marked exception one day to that generalization:  a tufted titmouse found me high in a tree  in my deer stand, and proceeded to spend about five minutes loudly scolding me from branches only several feet away. S/he was quite upset, but eventually grew tired of squabbling and left, leaving me to more peacefully watch other wildlife.

Here are a few highlights:

Twice I watched  a sharp-shinned hawk  that was hunting.  Both times the sleek well-groomed bird was flying silently through the forest, no more than two or three feet off the ground, seemingly effortlessly maneuvering through the brush with a flick of its long tail here or a quick wing stroke there.  It would perch on a branch for about 20 seconds, then again fly about 100 feet and perch again, all the time looking for its favorite prey:  the songbirds which frequent the brush.   Because I was in a tree, I was looking down on the sharp-shinned hawk when it went directly underneath me.

In marked contrast to the the sharp-shinned hawk’s  sleek  appearance and graceful flight, one day a large wild turkey suddenly thrashed its way out of the brush 100 feet away.  When I reached for my binoculars it immediately changed course away from me and disappeared back into the brush.  Smart birds, those wild turkeys.   Other times I’ve heard wild turkeys vocalizing, watched them feeding on the forest floor, and once delighted in the site of them leaving their night time roost trees at dawn with a long stiff-winged glide to the ground.   Gobble, gobble!  Cluck, cluck!

Pileated and other woodpeckers are quite common, not to mention loud.  They all ignore me, sometimes getting quite close.

But, my favorite every fall, is to hear and see the migrating tundra swans flying overhead.  I hadn’t seen any this entire fall season until about 8:00 AM on the last day of the deer season, when I heard tundra swans calling overhead, and I knew right away they weren’t geese!  About 50 birds flew in magnificent large ‘V’ formation heading southeast towards Chesapeake Bay about 60 miles away, where they winter.   These birds were from somewhere along the very northern coast of North America where they breed on the tundra, and could have even been from Alaska, some 6,400 miles away!   Click here for a range map (scroll down), or click here to hear their calls (scroll down to the first recording for tundra swans)….that is the beautiful sound I heard overhead. 

Witnessing the snow-white tundra swans flying gracefully overhead against the blue sky, totally made my day!

There’s always something exciting to see when watching wildlife, so Get Outside!