Swan Song

Hooded Mergansers

Saturday’s weather was perfect. For December you couldn’t ask for any better. It had a sunny, cloudless sky, with no wind, not even a ripple on the water and a high into the fifties. I actually felt overdressed at times, in only shirtsleeves. We headed up to the Riverlands to do some birding and I bought the drone along.

I had high hopes for getting good shots with it. Unfortunately, a setting that I had made prevented me from being able to do that. When I first got the gadget, I had dialed down the range that I would allow it to fly away from me. At the time, I viewed this as a prudent safety measure. I didn’t want the thing to fly away from me. As I’ve become more experienced with it, I realize now that this was a mistake. Any mishap half-a-mile out across the Mississippi would be just as deadly to the drone as one only a quarter-mile away. On the two occasions that I flew, I almost got to where I wanted to go, when I hit a wall. The drone would not fly any further. After the second outing. I finally realized that this was the issue, but I was unwilling to adjust any settings while the drone was in the air. 

Trumpeter Swans Taking-Off

Returning to terrestrial cameras, I got the above photo of a mating pair of Hooded mergansers. How do I know that they are a mating pair? Three of their chicks were still in tow. We have mergansers at the cabin, but those are the Common merganser. Their broods can start as great as twenty tiny chicks, but as the summer wears on those numbers dwindle. Still having three chicks in December is doing pretty well.

There were lots of other birds about, but for the main event there were the Trumpeter swans. At this time of year hundreds congregate at the Riverlands. There were about a hundred or so swimming is the Alton Slough and I photographed them, but the main event came at sunset. Then hundreds more return to the Riverlands after having spent the day foraging in the many surrounding cornfields. By sunset their numbers were trying to blot out the setting sun. Not too successfully, but you have to give them an A for effort.

This display was appreciated by the line of birders who had parked along the causeway into the Riverlands. This line was even longer than the line of Illinois drivers who for a Saturday night had come across the river to buy cheap Missouri gas at the station that acts as a gatekeeper to the wildlife preserve. With all of these giant birds hovering to-and-fro, even I could get a picture or two. Flying in from out of the sun, I really appreciated their honk-honk-honking that announced their imminent arrival. Normally white, the pictured ones above had been yellowed by the setting sun as they circled around us. 

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