Embers From the Fire
A weekly blog by Deacon Dan Wagnitz for the Quad-Parish Community
Just Passing Through – 3/19/2021
I was outside this week doing some serious puttering, puttering of course meaning “to occupy oneself in a manner so that one appears to be busy with something important.” Now that I am retired, I am working on my puttering. And it came in handy because if I hadn’t been outside puttering, I would have missed them. It’s interesting that it is always just a single note that catches the attention, but once you fix in on the right direction the sound quickly builds.
I knew at once what the sound meant, so I headed out of the garage and looked up. There, coming right overhead was a flock of about fifty tundra swans. Then I spotted a smaller flock just to the south. Both flocks were headed west. No doubt in a short while they would be resting in one of the flooded fields or marshes between Black Creek and Shiocton.
I tend to think of migratory birds as returning to Wisconsin to fill our eyes and ears with flight and song. But the swans for the most part are just passing through. They will linger in our area, resting and feeding on waste grain for just a week or two. Then they will continue northward – most of them headed all the way to the Arctic coastline. It is a special grace that they pass through our early springtime each year.
Michelle and I love to drive west in the evenings these weeks to find a flock if we can. We have seen huge flocks of over a thousand, but mostly we find fields with a couple of hundred birds. The marsh area between Black Creek and Shiocton is a favorite place to find them. We like to drive there after supper to catch the birds flying in to spend the night. The family groups bank around and then pitch back and forth while dropping in altitude. It is amazing how gracefully they set their wings and glide down into the water -usually the little groups landing all together, still in their flight formation.
Sometimes it takes some driving to find them. A couple of years ago we spent an evening driving to all of the places where we had watched them previous years only to find empty field after empty field. We finally gave up and headed home. Then we spotted about 100 birds in the conservancy ponds literally in our back yard. Now we check those ponds first!
When we do find them, we pull the car over to the side of the road, crack the windows as far down as the temps allow, and listen. Swans don’t honk like geese. According to the Audubon Society website it was the Lewis and Clark Expedition that called them Whistling Swans because of their high-pitched calls. It is hard to describe but certainly distinctive. Once you match the sound with the bird you don’t even have to look up; you’ll immediately know what they are. But you will want to look up, especially those clear sky days when the sun gleams off of their white feathers. Beauty, grace, and the wonder of a creature that wintered in the Atlantic and will nest in the Arctic. “Swans” – now playing at a marsh or farm field near you – limited engagement!