Sunday, December 4, 2016

Swan Song

We began our morning at the Hassyampa River Preserve.  It was a pretty place and we did have a nice bird count.  But it was a random trek out to Sun City to confirm a recent sighting of a Tundra Swan that would make our day fun and exciting.  But I'll start off with some pretty Gray Fox and Hassayampa photos to properly get this adventure started.  

We entered the realm of Sun City, a huge Arizona retirement community.  It's always good to begin your search with the facts.  When the facts/data don't match up, it's time to ask questions. "Hi there, we were wondering if you've seen swans on your golf courses?  We're here to verify a Tundra Swan recently seen at one of your ponds."  

"OH yes!  We have swans at several of the ponds. There are some in that direction and over here."

"And you're sure they are not geese?  Like the two Snow Geese seen over there?" Oh gods....what if they thought those geese were swans.  It wouldn't be the first time.  This search reminded me of our Monk Parakeet follow up last year in Casa Grande.  What was impressive is that the residents here KNEW their birds and definitely knew the difference between a goose and a swan.  That was really cool. But where were they?

"No. No," they continued, "These are definitely swans. Go to the club house and they can give you better directions", replied the happy retired couple. We went to the club house and an elderly man asked me if I could fix the hot tub.  I felt like a guy wearing a red shirt in a Target Store. As it turned out, it was the wrong club house.  If there were swans, did the residents know the difference between a Mute or Tundra Swan?  We'd find out. 

One of several Mute Swans found on the golf course ponds
Our random conversations went like this for a couple hours.  The problem?  So many of the ponds were hidden from street view and that made it difficult spotting ANY bird. The Tundra Swan is a very rare bird for Maricopa County and it was important that we track down and confirm the ID of this bird.

As she heads towards the light, Magill realizes before it's too late that this isn't the right hotspot......for now. 
We were meticulous in our search. The problem?  We were in a retirement community that had many of the ponds on private property.  Both Magill and myself are responsible birders and obey the law accordingly.  If a sign is posted, we don't trespass.  And that was a frustrating (and yet kinda fun) challenge.  But as they say, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

A Harris's Hawk perches on top of a resident's home

As stated before, the hotspot markers were in different areas of the city.  The birder reporting this swan certainly had specific and detailed information in their report leading us to believe that the swan was legit.  Not many people have searched for this bird because there is question as to whether or not this swan is truly wild AND there has been some inaccurate reporting from this area in the past:)  So we hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.  But when it comes to birding, is there really a worse case scenario?  Well maybe if you were attacked by bears or fall off a cliff......but other than that.......:)

The Tundra Swan has a provenance issue.  If you don't know that word, don't worry.....I didn't either:)  It basically questions the origin of the bird and whether the swan can be "counted" as a wild bird.  After hearing the history of this particular Tundra Swan, I think we'll find out that the bird is indeed countable. Come spring, if the bird flies North, there is no question. If it stays, it's a different story. 

The stunning Hooded Mergansers
We saw some great birds in the various ponds but there was one pond that was hidden from view. We knew the swans were there. How could we view the pond without stepping on private property?  And that's when fate would have us meet up with Patti and Sylvia!  

After finding the correct club house, we stopped and asked several of the residents if they had seen the Tundra Swan or knew of any swans on the property. They said they did. And what was even better?  They knew what a Tundra Swan was! Then something really spontaneous and fun happened. They took us straight to the bird in their golf carts. Both women were so kind.  If you are reading Patti and Sylvia, a big THANK YOU for taking a couple of strange bird people out in your golf carts.  

And sure enough. There they were. The Swans. 

Tundra Swan
One Mute Swan and one Tundra Swan.  Side by side preening. 

It was a fun afternoon out on the greens.  Well, a birder's version of golf:)

It's always great investigating areas with Magill.  It reminds me of playing detective as a kid except that it's all for a good cause.  Plus you get to meet new kids adults at the playground! 

The world is an ever changing place and with it, we are finding that the birds are also adapting or struggling to survive against those changes.  I've been birding for a short 5 years in Arizona and I have to say that this year has been the craziest with sightings.  What will next week hold?  Stay tuned for more........


  1. You were on a golf course and you got lots of birdies - seems like a good day all round!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  2. A great story, Chris. That Tundra Swan would still be a fabulous bird, even if it wasn't rare!

    The Gray Fox is really cute!

    Best wishes - - - Richard

  3. A super post Chris and great photos. So glad you caught up with the Tundra Swan - great story :)

  4. Interesting story - I'm glad you persisted in your search and found help and your swans eventually.

  5. What an adventure! Lots of beautiful photos.

  6. Tundra Swan have not seen even in the zoo. Lisek also charming, though suspiciously watched the birds. Regards.

  7. Hello Chris!:) Both the Tundra and the Mute Swans are beautiful birds. I have never seen the Tundra Swan, or the Grey Fox, so thank you for sharing your excellent photos. Best Regards.


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