What’s up with this weather?

We have been in the grip of a prolonged vortex of cold air from our northern neighbors since February 4 with daytime highs in the negative digits (F) and nighttime lows dipping well below -10 F (e.g. last night was -21 F). Just for something to inspire me mentally (?), I added up the last 10 nights of low temperatures and came up with a grand total sum of -95 degrees. Now that’s arctic! Needless to say it’s difficult for my fingers to work camera buttons at these temperatures, let alone get outdoors for a walk in the backyard.

But, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day and to commemorate a time when I was braver about venturing out in -15F weather, here are a few photos of the Trumpeter Swans on the Mississippi River at Monticello, MN, engaging in courtship displays to cement their pair bond — love is in the air for these swans, most of which mate for life.

Even in the warmth of a beautiful sunrise, this landscape looks unforgivingly cold. And it was about -12F on February 9, 2014,
Trumpeter Swans pair up about the age of 3 or 4 years. Each year, there is a lot of “conversation” between members of the pair as they go about their ritual of preparing for the next breeding season.
Head bowing is an important part of the ritual — always done in synchrony.
The iconic heart-shape formed by the arches of their necks as they face each other during a part of the courtship ritual. This shot is always a popular Valentine’s Day image.
The swan pair stay together all year long. In the winter they spend the night on the water, then fly off together in the morning to forage in fields where there might be some left over grain. They will remain together, rearing a clutch of 2-5 or even 6 goslings each year, until one or both of them die — some as long as 25 years.
Some males that have lost their mates never find another female to form a new pair bond with and remain bachelors the rest of their lives. Hiking along a creek on a cold February day in 2016, I found one lone swan accompanied only by Mallards.

Thinking of warmer days ahead, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day, 2021.

Sunrise with the Swans

I have been wanting to visit the Trumpeter swans that overwinter on the Mississippi River at Monticello, MN for some time, and since the weather doesn’t seem like it will ever warm up, a friend and I braved the -12F temperature (-30 F with wind) chill to take some photos.

The view right at sunrise.  Most of the river is frozen, but the swans keeps a narrow channel open near shore.

The view right along the Mississippi River at sunrise. Most of the river is frozen, but the swans keeps a narrow channel open near shore.

A few minutes later, the golden light turned the snow pink.  Most of the swans were still sleeping on the ice.

A few minutes later, the golden light turned the river ice/snow pink. Most of the swans were still sleeping on the ice, along with a few Canada Geese.

Still sleeping, even though the volume of trumpeting is so loud we have to shout to be heard.

Still sleeping, even though the volume of trumpeting is so loud we have to shout to be heard.

Trumpeter swans congregate here largely because they are being fed corn once a day by a kindly gentleman.  This tradition was started more than 20 years ago by one swan-loving woman, and has grown to such an enterprise that the 1200 pounds of corn doled out per week supports several thousand birds.  You can read more about her efforts here.

The intrepid photographer at work.

The intrepid photographer/blogger at work, beneath 5 layers of clothes just barely keeping her warm.  There were several retreats to a warm coffee shop during the 5 hours we spent here.

A bevy, a lamentation, or a wedge..

Those are suggested names for a group of swans — certainly more classy than just “flock”.  However, there should be a special designation for the hundreds (thousands?) of swans that congregate along the Mississippi River in  Monticello, Minnesota, where heated water from the nuclear power plant keeps a large stretch of the Mississippi River open each winter.

Recently, photographer-naturalist Paul Sundberg photographed the “lamentation” (I’ve decided I like that appellation best) of Trumpeter Swans there and I encourage you to visit his Jan 20 “photo of the week” because the image below doesn’t do justice to his photos.

Photo by Paul Sundberg

Photo by Paul Sundberg

To really be impressed with the density of swans that congregate in this area, check out the video below.  One woman began feeding ducks and geese in her backyard in 1986, and it has escalated to feeding almost a ton of corn per day to a couple thousand swans along with the other waterfowl.  Click here to read a recent article about this endeavor.

UPDATE January 22 — I just found this wonderful post by Sparky, well worth a visit to his site, to see his video and photos of the Monticello (nuclear) Swans.