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Breezy Point

Local Golf
August 22, 2017

Tundra Swans Or Trumpeter Swans
Tundra Swan
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Tundra Swan
Trumpeter Swan
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Trumpeter Swan
By R.J. Smiley

One of the joys of living in the Midwest is experiencing the change of seasons. As the beauty of summer fades into twilight, the days grow noticeably shorter. Then suddenly the meteorologist shouts, "Fall Back," and the rude notice to golfers, "Play golf today, it might be your last round of the season."

On a recent fall day that exact script was written. I received a call from a golf buddy, "Hi, we need a fourth at Baker at 11:30. I heard the greens are still really good and the senior price includes a cart."

"Count me in. See you a little after 11:00," I replied.

Weather forecast was partly cloudy with a high of 55°, a south breeze of 10-15 mph. Not exactly the best forecast, but for early November it was balmy.

After the Red Barn, 1st hole, kicked our collective butts, we settled into our games. As we played the short par-4 5th, we noticed some large white birds landing on Lake Independence. "Do you think those are snow geese moving south for the winter?" Shorty asked.

The Twin replied, "They look too big for geese, maybe they are Trumpeter Swans. They migrate through this time of year."

After finding the two balls on the left, the safe side, on the monster 6th; we drove along the waters edge right side, hoping that one of the two balls might have found a dry landing. Then Shorty gasped, "Damn, look at those swans! I did not know that they were that big."

"I thought Trumpeter Swans were white?" questioned the Twin. "Some of those swans look almost black. I heard that the baby, you know the immature ones, Tundra Swans were blackish grey."

We putted out on 6 and were standing on the tee of the beautiful little 7th, but the argument had continued.

Shorty argued, "Those birds were huge. They had to be Trumpeter Swans."

"I told you that those were Tundra Swans. The babies were black."

Back in the clubhouse we sipped three hot chocolates and a coffee to warm up, as the sun was growing low in the western sky, the argument continued. "Trumpeter!" "No Tundra!"

Three days later, on another might-be-the-last-round day, as we warmed up on the driving range, I said, "Much of what you two argued about last time - you know about the swans, was correct. Both of you were correct. And both of you were wrong. I found out that unless you see these birds side by side, Tundra Swans and Trumpeter Swans, it is almost impossible to determine which is which."

"I looked them up online and unless you hear them make their sound it is hard to tell. The Trumpeter Swan has a honking sound where a Tundra Swan has a whistling sound. In fact Lewis and Clark wrote about the Tundra Swan calling them Whistling Swans. The Trumpeter Swan is slightly larger and there is some difference in the shape of the neck."

I went on to explain that both swans mate for life and nest in the far north of the Alaskan tundra. The cygnets (the name for a baby swan) in both species have varying shades of grey for the first year. The Trumpeter Swans tend to turn pure white a bit earlier than their cousins the Tundra Swan. There are some differences in the shape of the bill and the eye makeup of the two, but from a distance it is impossible to tell the difference.

They arrive in the far north just about the time that the ice goes out. As these two types of swans make their migration to their winter homes some 3,000 miles away, they often stop to feed for several days along the route that roughly follows the Mississippi River. As the waterways start to freeze they move on further south. Those who write about the swans call these refueling stops.

The group of know-it-all senior golfers seemed satisfied with my explanation.

As we were enjoying a post round warm up hot beverage, the conversation turned to what a joy it is to live in a place where Mother Nature continues to entertain us on a seasonal basis.

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