F E B R U A R Y   2 0 1 8

Photo by David Jensen

February Vagabonds

By Dr Karen Antell

Swans.  Their beauty and grace belie their resilience, strength, and stamina. Long necks extended beyond powerful wings provide aerodynamic efficiency necessary for long flight.  Yet, they also glide seemingly effortlessly across lakes and ponds, equally at home on water or air.  The long journey of Tundra Swans represents one of our most reliable harbingers of early spring, and their annual arrival in the Wallowa Country never fails to surprise and delight.

As we grudgingly begin to think about emerging from our deep winter slumbers, the swans have already begun their amazing annual migration northward!  For they are hardy creatures, inured to the cold with warm downy fluff.  Living and breeding on the Yukon Delta of NW Alaska, they migrate as far south as the Sacramento River Delta, a journey of over 2,500 miles. They arrive in California in November or December, where they lay over for only a month or two, feeding on aquatic vegetation, invertebrates, and leftover grain, before turning their attention back northward.

Occasionally, Tundra Swans appear in our area in December or January.  Some birds chose to eschew the crowds of central California to roam around the Columbia basin in search of open water or spent grain fields.  These wanderers appear on Wallowa County Christmas Bird Counts in 12 out of the last 36 years.

Bonded for life, mates travel together in family groups.  At peak migration, larger gathers come together, often joining raucous flocks of Snow Geese, who share their route northward.  While they may seem calm and quiet compared to their noisy companions, Tundra Swans speak their own language.  Meriwether Lewis christened them Whistling Swans, describing the sound of the wind in their wings as they drop from sky to earth.

We have only a few, short February weeks to enjoy these extraordinary vagabonds as they pause to feed along their long journey homeward.  For, despite their Latin name, Cygnus columbianus, they are Tundra Swans after all, not California or Oregon Swans.  

Professor Antell, with a PhD in Plant Systematics from Washington State University, has taught botany and biological sciences at Eastern Oregon University since 1987.Her professional interests include conservation and restoration biology, especially with riparian and wetland systems. She likes field trips, flowers, and bugs (especially moths).

Ralph's Links
By Ralph Anderson

Geese & Swans On Wallowa Lake
Every 3 years or so... during fall migration... the clouds will sometimes set low on the Wallowas and the night-migrating snow geese will get trapped below the clouds, can't find a way through or around the Wallowas, spend all night tracking up and down the valley... and usually wind up on Wallowa Lake or the Joseph sewage lagoons.  I watched them one morning after that kind of night... from the north end of Wallowa Lake... about mid-morning there was sunlight way up the west fork of the Wallowa River while the clouds still hung low here in the valley.  The snow geese had landed on the lake and there was a band of swans hanging there, too.  The snows' spotted the sunlight under the cluds up the west fork, took off, circled over the lake about three times then lined out for that gap through the Wallowas.  This morning... the swans followed them.

-- Ralph Anderson


Popular Links in January

Do you actually give yourself the grace of two hours?

How Many Wallowa County Jays Do You Know?

What Happens In Cowless Forest Ponds

How Well Do We Know The Ecology Of Our Local Otters?

Ralph Anderson, having retired from a career with the U.S. Forest Service and as a consulting Wildlife Biologist, continues to offer his perspectives, insights and perusal of the current flow of science discoveries and its implications via postings on the Wallowa'ology facebook page. The range of links he posts runs from hard science of physics, mathematics, geo-spatial, archaeological and natural sciences to applications in education, fun and play.  He tries to dodge the politics of most issues though they are implicit in many of the articles. A common denominator he seeks in his postings is information, a widening perspective, appreciation for all that is around us and fun.

D E C E M B E R    E V E N T S


Trading Guns for Goonies: Habitat Restoration at a former Navy Base on Midway Atoll in the Pacific Islands 

🗓  Thursday, February 22nd - Time TBA
📍  Wallowology, 508 N. Main St, Joseph

Bio: Born and raised in New York City by not exactly nature-loving parents, Rob isn’t sure exactly how he ended up doing conservation work, but suspects that it stems from his longstanding appreciation of fresh air, uncrowded spaces and a fascination with plants and animals. After finishing a B.S. in Computer Science (St. John’s University) and a brief stint as a computer geek with IBM, Rob went back to school, this time studying ecology and conservation biology at the University of New Mexico (Ph.D., Biology/Ecology). After graduating he was hired on by the Nature Conservancy where he worked for a couple of years in the desert southwest before taking on the job of Northeast Oregon Regional Ecologist where he spent over 10 years leading the development of an ecological monitoring and research program for the Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Initiative. In 2016 Rob’s wanderlust got the better of him and he flew west to work as a restoration ecologist at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Islands. Now back home in Wallowa County, Rob continues to look for opportunities to apply his skills as a scientist in working with government agencies, non-profits, and private landowners to help solve conservation challenges
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