Mornings along the creek

Today is two months after the winter solstice (Dec 21), and we now have two more hours of daylight each day (almost 11 hours). More importantly, the sun rises each day 13 degrees higher than it did on the winter solstice (35 vs 22 degrees above the horizon), and it is now more than half way to its maximum altitude in our summer sky on June 21 (68 degrees).

What does this mean for us winter-weary Minnesotans — spring is ever near! Cardinals and Chickadees are singing up a storm on sunny mornings when the radiant heat of the sun can actually be felt through the chilly (20 F) air. The polar vortex is history, and it’s time to get out and enjoy the end of winter, — like taking a morning walk along the Sucker Lake creek.

This creek connection between Vadnais and Sucker lakes is a popular spot for mallards and Trumpeter Swans because the water is open and flowing all year. Unfortunately, there is nothing at all for the waterfowl to eat here because it has been picked clean over the previous months.
A Trumpeter Swan swimming through the ice chandeliers on the creek…
A pair of mallards takes off right in front of me.
At the north end of Sucker Lake, over 100 Trumpeter Swans swim in a small pool of open water near the inlet.
A mixture of adults and juveniles (brown heads) have been congregating here throughout the winter, spending nights and mornings on the water before flying off to forage in agricultural fields. Toward the end of the winter, swans and other wildlife (e.g., deer) spend more time resting and less time actively foraging, since there is very little left to feed on and whatever is there is probably well-covered by snow. By resting more, they expend less energy and conserve their energy reserves.
Morning nap time…
Last year’s offspring (swans with gray-brown heads and necks) remain with their parents through the winter, and perhaps pick up a few good tips on where to find food during this period.
Mom or Dad Swan tried a new place to look for submergent vegetation, and the youngster follows.
Long necks are definitely good for reaching into tight spaces, and this adult must have been finding something because it kept at it for several minutes.
Taking a break from all the morning’s activities…

Bottoms up

Ducks seem to love to copy each other, or follow each other.  I suppose they “think” what’s good for one of their kind must be good for them as well.  The synchronous swimming maneuvers by a couple of mallard drakes was entertaining to watch when I was out taking photos of the beaver damage the other day at the Sucker Lake outlet.

mallards swimming-Sucker Lake creek

There were surprisingly few ducks on this creek outlet of Sucker Lake. Usually this area is teeming with mallards, and swans, until the ice melts on the lake.

mallard drakes swimming-

Two mallard drakes performed their synchronous swimming act for a lone female, while a third drake looked on. He didn’t seem to want to join in.  You can see the water dripping off their heads and bills after they had tipped up to feed off the bottom — as seen below.

mallards feeding

Ducks are so buoyant they have trouble keeping just their heads submerged. They paddle the water continuously with their feet to keep their heads under.

mallards feeding

The synchrony of these feeding efforts was surprising. But perhaps dredging by more than one bill liberates more food from the bottom for both of them.

mallards swimming

Eventually that third drake joined in the line leading the female around the creek. It’s still too cold to think about pairing up for the nesting season, but it doesn’t hurt to strut a little either.

Swan River

It was a bright, sunny 0 F (-17C) when I walked up the trail to visit the Trumpeter Swans at Sucker Lake creek, the only open water in this area of the metro.  The snow didn’t so much crunch as it squeaked under my feet, but the cold doesn’t seem to bother the waterfowl at all.

The scene looked much like it did last January, but there were only a fraction of the swans I saw then.

The scene looked much like it did last January, but there were only a fraction of the swans I saw then.

Swans glided gracefully along the slow-moving creek above and below the bridge across it.  Beavers have been hard at work in this area, felling the birch trees; I wonder if this will impact the creek flow at some point this winter.

Their muted trumpets playing back and forth across the creek sounded like the brass solos of some orchestral piece.

Their muted trumpets playing back and forth across the creek sounded like the brass solos of some orchestral piece.

Swans seemed to stick together in small family groups.

Swans seemed to stick together in small family groups.

It is amazing how quickly they acclimate to the presence of humans just a few feet away.

It is amazing how quickly they acclimate to the presence of humans just a few feet away. Perhaps the same birds were here last year; the young ones (grayer) probably take their cues from the adults.

I didn't stay too long today; my hands and feet were cold.

I didn’t stay too long today; my hands and feet were cold. Only 6 days from the solstice, this is as high as the sun gets at 45 degrees north latitude at noon (21.5 degrees from the horizon).