Tundra swans over the Mississippi

It’s official!

When the tundra swans show up along the Upper Mississippi, you know that winter is on its way.

We delighted in the sights and sounds of a hundred or so swans north of Harpers Ferry on October 27. A few birds loafed in the backwaters along Red Oak Road, while others restlessly circled over the river valley.

The majestic swans ignored the flotillas of coots that shared the shallows with them, and tolerated small flocks of Canada geese, mallards, and widgeons. We also spotted wood ducks, canvasbacks, green-winged teal, and a passing flock of white pelicans.

Swans, geese, ducks - Red Oak Road

But the big push of waterfowl apparently hasn’t begun yet. It may take a stronger cold snap to bring down the big rafts of scaup, redheads, and canvasbacks.

Bald eagles already were staging along Red Oak Road in anticipation, however. One immature eagle feasted greedily on what appeared to be a pied-billed grebe. Other eagles soared on the thermals or sat patiently on logs protruding from the water.

Grebe for lunch

Pileated woodpeckers, cardinals, juncos, and elusive sparrows flitted through the trees and along the roadside where we stopped to watch the waterfowl and raptor spectacle. The first purple finches also have migrated from the north to feast on our sunflower seeds.

purple finch devouring sunflower seeds

Earlier on the brisk morning, a handsome buck deer had treated us to an uncharacteristically good view as he paused in a neighbor’s hayfield. The doe he was chasing probably made him throw caution to the winds! Yes, the rut is yet another sign of the changing seasons.

Handsome buck

Oh, we’ll enjoy to these last fall days, admiring a dandelion blossom in the yard, and savoring fresh garden lettuce from the patch that we cover with tarps each frosty night. We’ll cling to these memories as we prepare for the Iowa winter.

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