by Madeline Laughs
Every year a huge swan population migrates through the Outer Banks. They land on every wet part and hang around for a few weeks, sometimes months and then they move on to parts unknown. It is something to behold.
I had read for years about the Tundra Swans that roost on Lake Mattamuskett during the winter months. Lake Mattamuskett is just south of here about an hour’s ride and they describe it as “18 miles long, seven miles wide and a swan’s neck deep.” It is well known for the thousands of birds that spend their winters there. You can even spot a Peregrine Falcon or a Bald Eagle. I have always wanted to go just to see the swan migration, but I’d never had the time. Being an Outbanker, we have so much of nature’s bounty to observe and connect with. When I told my friend Kotn about the swans being on Pea Island she remarked that we would have an early spring because the swans had arrived so soon. It warmed my heart to make this special connection. The swans sending a message that warmer, sunny days weren’t far away.
Coming home from Buxton yesterday I noticed the sound side of Pea Island was full of these large, white birds. I slowed down to get a better look and realized they were swans…hundreds of them! It took my breathe away! I knew I’d have to come back and bring my camera and that’s just what I did today.
Donning a warm jacket and a hat, packing up my camera, my cell phone and a loaf of bread bought special for the trip today, I set out to see some swans. I know, what’s the big deal about a swan? There are your run of the mill swans that people buy to decorate a pond in a public area, or their back yard and then there are these swans. They are wild, feral, free birds. To see one fly over your head is to feel small and insignificant in comparison to it’s size and it’s beauty.
I found a nice flock close on the shoreline as I traveled down Route 12 and I pulled over carefully and parked. I zipped up my BRIGHT RED WINDBREAKER and applied a nice coating of my CURIOUSLY-STRONG-SCENTED SPEARMINT CHAPSTICK and proceeded to walk quietly across the marsh towards the flock. I have to admit, I am not an experienced birdwatcher. I’m sure if they didn’t *see* me, they could certainly smell my chapstick. They all had the same reaction to me, which is evident in my photographs.
Not to be discouraged so quickly I rode further down the road in search of more that I could *sneak* up on. They too departed as soon as I picked my way towards them. The only fowl not in mortal fear of me were the Canadian Geese, but they honked their alarms with such force I’m surprised every bird on the sound didn’t take flight. They did not fly away, but stood there looking at me like they expected me to take flight too. HONK! HONK!
I finally resigned my purist approach and opted for the well trodden nature path. The further down I plodded the fewer swans I saw. I did see turtles sleeping on the banks, Wood Ducks with a slew of babies and a White Egret, but no swans. I happened upon some *actual* birdwatchers and they informed me that all of the swans were closer to where I had just come from. So I turned around and headed back to my car. They were not wearing red, they were very quiet and whispered when they spoke to me and instead of a camera they had binoculars. I wonder now if they weren’t just trying to get rid of me, my bright, red windbreaker and my spearmint chapstick.
After driving up and down Route 12 several times I found a small group just lounging close to the shoreline. I pulled over and shut off my car. Instead of getting out I rolled down my window and just watched them for the longest time. They weren’t close enough for me to get any *fine* pictures, but they were close enough to thrill me. So I sat quietly and I watched them. I smiled, I laughed and my eyes swelled with tears. They swam and they preened and they stretched those long feathered necks. It was serenity at it’s finest and elegance beyond it’s boundaries.
It will never grow tiresome for me to find such innocent beauty in this world. Pure and simple and right there for the moment. A shared snapshot in my mind of something rare and unexpected, but real enough to make my heart keep beating.
- Wild swans under threat as numbers begin to decline (independent.co.uk)
- OBX Green drinks (obxcommonground.org)
- Slaughter of the swans: Sniper kills 29 birds with high-powered air rifle (dailymail.co.uk)