Great Falls Forty-eight elegant and picturesque Tundra Swans swimming peacefully in the
Potomac River, occasionally extending their long necks down to feed on some aquatic vegetation, and cooing softly, delighted onlookers from on shore at Riverbend Park last week. Many of these land-bound spectators tried to capture the scene with their cell phone or other cameras. Several long-time regulars at the park said that they had never seen this many swans there before.
Tundra swans, Cygnus columbianus, often called Whistling Swans are, however, regular visitors to the rivers, lakes, and bays of Virginia, Maryland, and even North Carolina every winter. Many thousands of these great birds migrate south to winter in the Chesapeake and mid-Atlantic regions in the autumn. Indeed, for a birder or an outdoor naturalist, seeing a great “vee” of 50-100 or more swans winging their way south on a fall morning or afternoon is a treat to be desired and savored. Smaller numbers, perhaps up to a dozen or so, Tundra swans have been seen on the Potomac River at Riverbend infrequently in years past. Why this larger group of nearly 50 Tundra swans gathered on the Potomac there, and have stayed for over a week, is anyone's guess. Perhaps the winds were not right for migration; perhaps they simply wanted to stock up more body fuel for their long journey north. Whatever the reason, they may well be there for a few days more before resuming their northward migration to their breeding grounds in far northern Canada and Alaska. So, if you have a chance, stop by the Park before too long, and you may yet find the swans there, cooing softly on the river. Don't forget your camera.