Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kinnelon Critter File: Swans

Other than admiring their grace and serenity in watery settings, I know very little about swans. We are fortunate, though, in the Kinnelon, NJ area to have many to admire.

I counted approximately ten on Fayson Lakes recently, and two on the Taylortown Reservoir next to the Boonton Avenue and Fayson Lakes Road soccer field.  I was delighted to notice a growing family on Woodland Lake in Pompton Plains, too.

The three that delight me the most live on Lake Kinnelon.  I share them with you here, as well as what I've recently discovered about swans.

Swans took on a more romantic aura after reading E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan this spring with my daughter [thanks to her teacher, Dawn Winkler].  From that book, we learned about Trumpeter Swans, the "largest native North American bird, if measured in terms of weight and length, and is (on average) the largest waterfowl species on earth."  We started paying closer attention to the swans in our vicinity, wondering about the eggs being laid and hatched and the viability of the cygnets. 

We didn't think ours were Trumpeters, but we hadn't had much of a chance to inspect them closely enough to reach any kind of scientific determination.

Until we decided on a beautiful late September weekend to take the Lake Kinnelon hike and came across the swans at the far north and shallow end of the lake.  Needless to say, we got out of the car, camera in hand and made sure to capture these critters digitally.

Thanks to the photos, we've been able to determine which swans ours are.

In addition to Trumpeter Swans, there are also Tundra Swans and Mute Swans in the U.S.. Trumpeters and Tundras are native, whereas Mutes were introduced from Europe.  Based on the orange bill color and body posture, we have determined that the swans in our area are Mute Swans.

Despite its name, the swan makes noises.  "Although quieter than some other species, it is by no means mute. Among its vocalizations are a loud snort when annoyed, shrill trumpeting when really angry, and an aggressive hiss. They are the most territorial of the swans and two males will fight viciously if one intrudes on another's turf. Nesting territories can cover 4-10 acres and are reoccupied by the same pair year after year. In breeding season they can be quite aggressive to people approaching the nesting area, and their large size makes them somewhat dangerous in this situation, so it is best to avoid them at that time" says FeatherSite.

Earlier, I mentioned that Mute Swans aren't native to the U.S..  In fact, they were introduced to this country in the late 1800s from Western Europe, mostly in the Hudson Valley and Long Island sections of New York State primarily for decoration, to enhance water properties and zoos.  

Possibly a far stretch, but I wonder whether Francis Kinney might have acquired his own pair of Mute Swans?  Perhaps these are the descendants?

According to the Columbia write-up on Mute Swans, "Mute swans are herbivorous aquatic foragers. An individual adult swan consumes 3-4kg of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) per day.  The remainder of their diet includes a small proportion of terrestrial plants, algae, insects, fish and frogs.  In their native lands, mute swan feeding habits aid other waterfowl’s foraging as they stir up vegetation deep in the water that smaller waterfowl, such as ducks, cannot reach.  If left unprotected, medium-sized predators, such as mink and raccoons, will take eggs and cygnets.  Adults are not usually preyed upon unless they are injured or sick."

Early Autumn view of St. Hubert's Chapel.
The different sites referenced above touch on the destructive nature of Mute Swans and the need for concern.  Although I envy Fayson Lakes its large swan population, Lake Kinnelon's population seems better controlled. From what the Smoke Rise Beach life guards have said, we owe thanks to the lake's snapping turtles which prey upon the eggs and cygnets [baby swans]...  The current Lake Kinnelon swan family consists of the parents [cob and pen] and possibly a youngster from last year's clutch as it is all white with orange beak [adolescents are grey with black beaks]. 

Do let me know if you notice other swans or other types of swans nearby.

[Last weekend, we visited the Central Park Zoo and came across a black-necked swan from South America.  I'll share that with you in a separate post.]

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