It was a tough debate with myself. Do I blog about the Zook finally getting the hook (a triumphant time for all Illini fans) or do a rant on what a piece of crap software iTunes is (you would think an half brained programmer would allow you to sort your playlist folders by the physical file name). At last I decided to go with … oh geez, I better get going on those Yellowstone posts or I’m going to spending the rest of the month wading through all the email from my angry readers. I need to ease into this thanks to the fact there are probably 30 posts alone from our shots that week and like a big night of bar hopping, once it’s tapped … you’re in for a long stream (too graphic?.. thought so). This set is a little bitter sweet. The sweet part is I was able to put another check in the bird list with Trumpeter Swans. The bitter news is I wasn’t able to get the best shots due to a combination of the weather conditions and just not having the required reach – those suckers were out there and even though we ended up hiking out pretty far to improve the shots, I didn’t exactly execute. Enough chit chat, let’s get those pictures up!
Linda and I were able to meet up with David and Giselle while we were out there. They are friends from here that recently moved out to Billings, Montana (to join the militia ha!). On our first day out there we passed by Swan Lake and noticed what looked like rather large white birds enjoying the water. Now keep in mind that was a ways off! I pulled out the Beast and tried to pull them in, but it just didn’t have the desired reach. Somewhat adventurous we decided to hike out there to get a better shot. It looked like just prairie grass at first, but we soon found out it was kind of swampy – luckily the cold weather firmed it up enough for us to pick our way out there. Linda took this great shot of us shooting the Swans.
As you can tell from the shot, it wasn’t the best day for shooting – glad we bundled up before hiking out there. I should probably point out that if it wasn’t for the cold there is absolutely no way Linda would have been out there with us because this field must be a snake haven on warmer days! As it turns out, we checked back at this lake later in the week and had a little better lighting than our first day. Since those came out a little better, I’ll start with those – note, I wasn’t about to ask Linda to head back out there in snake land so the better lighting cost some distance.
Here they are pulled in a little bit more thanks to a tighter cropping. For a bird that is somewhat rare, there sure was a nice grouping of them in the appropriately named lake.
Hit the jump to see more pictures of the Trumpeters!
I wanted a shot of the darker colored swan to add to my collection. As luck would have it, the swan right next to it decided to demonstrate what he thought of my photography skills. Hello Mr. Smartass Swan, did I show you my down filled winter jacket? By the way, the grayer swans are actually juveniles.
Regrouping, I was actually able to capture a number of juvi swans and this time everyone managed to keep their tails in the water.
Being one of the clearer and closer pictures of the swans, this is probably a good time to point out something that was troubling me while trying to identify this bird. For those in the know, you might be asking yourself “Hey, I wonder if those are really Tundra Swans? For those not aware, the Tundra Swan is actually very close to the Trumpeter in appearance and behavior. I poured over all my reference books and Audubon apps to understand how to distinguish the two. First I will tell you that the Audubon android app has incorrect pictures coupled with the two birds which was making it even more difficult to tell them apart. So here was the deciding factors that led to my decision to go with the Trumpeter.
- The juvi bills had a black base (Tundra’s have a pink base)
- The Tundra adults have a yellow coloring below their eye and I was unable to see any specimens that showed that feature
- The angle the birds were holding their heads (neck curve) fit the best with the specimens in the Tundra section
Contrary opinion are quite welcome!
While taking this shot, I was waiting for the showdown when the mallard came cruising by. The lead swan took notice, but the drama fizzled as it just let the little guy swim past unmolested.
In fact, the mallard decided to have a visit with the little guys which brings us to another identification problem. At first the assumption was the little black ducklike birds were baby swans. There was not a single example of a newborn Tundra so this could not be verified. Later, skepticism began to creep in so once again to the reference manuals (for the record, the android app did a piss poor job through their advanced search feature). It looks like they are not baby swans awaiting their white plumage, but if the Tundra vs Trumpeter identification was hard, this ranks up there with impossible. I’m going to throw out a name and let you debate it amongst yourselves for a bit – try it out, kick the tires, visit your local library and maybe sleep on it for a day or two. Then drop back on by and give me a comment full of your thoughts.. ready? .. here goes American Coot. To be honest, beyond that “me ain’t got nuttin”.
Seeing the bird prepping for flight above, bring ups another little piece of trivia. Trumpeter Swan generally require at least 300 foot long bodies of water just to take off. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to witness one launch or land the entire week we were out there.
Now back to the darker shots taken the first day. They all lined up nicely for this particular shot, but the overcast sky made them blend in with the gray reflecting off the water. Their black beaks still give them away.
I almost had the classic shot of the interlocking swan necks. Done properly their heads will make a cool heart symbol. Just a little walk to the left would have probably done the trick, but the graininess from the high ISO would have taken away from the overall composition anyway.
The best shots (in my opinion) are when the subjects are in a unique pose. We have a tendency to get numbed by the same old shot of the same old water fowl just sitting around in the water. It just feels refreshing when there is something unique about the shot. Based on that crook in his neck he might want to check in with his local quack… I mean chiropractor (just kidding, I am a big proponent of chiros but I couldn’t resist the joke).
I’ll leave you with a calming serene shot. In a way I am jealous of the fact they get to enjoy the beauty of Yellowstone every day of their life with what appears to be minimal fear of predators. Simply floating on the water, watching those entertaining humans trample through the swamp and suffer the cold just to get a better glimpse of them.
By the way, here’s an interesting tidbit. When we came back here with David and Giselle the next day, there were three wolves passing through this area. Now they have a natural fear of humans but the running joke is you only have to run slightly faster than the slowest person in the group – it might be time to start a workout regiment with the Beast – that extra 7 pounds could put me in a vulnerable position! (especially since Linda usually has the monopod out making it very tempting to smack me in the knee if things get serious).
That’s all for now – hope you enjoyed our feather friends.