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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Whooper Swans of Southern Iceland

Air Date: Week of June 6, 2014

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Whooper Swan flaps its wings, trying to bear lift (Mark Seth Lender)

Writer Mark Seth Lender watches as a group of Whooper Swans in a southern Icelandic pond reluctantly take to the air as a snowstorm closes in.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Well, now we head from Alaska to Iceland, where early spring could pass for winter. Local guide Haukur Snorrason took writer Mark Seth Lender to see first hand what spring means for some wildlife at this unsettled time of year.

LENDER: Out on the lava field is a narrow pond glazed in half an inch of ice. A flock of Whooper Swans have spent the night there as the ice closed around them. And the open patch that remains is not enough. Breasting up and leaning all her weight against the leading edge, one of the swans works to make more room, and the frozen plates upend and slide. She peddles against them but nothing moves, and after a while she gives up. The cob only watches her, then stretches all the way down, rests his bill on the ice, does not drink or make a sound but only rests there (angry at someone or some thing) and only his reflection stares back at him. He straightens up, and the two of them side by side bow their heads staring, as if the ice is a mystery they do not understand. In accord, they flap and climb out of the water and onto the hard expanse. Having given up on breaking in, they will break out.


Whooper Swans shuffle and ice across the pond’s ice (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The flock shuttles across the pond. They shuffle and skid, the sound of their huge flat feet like children pushing through wet snow: sluice; slush; slis... Children is what most of them are, swans entering their second year their faces tinted warm reddish brown, and the grey-on-white of cygnets of the previous spring. Their calls grow closer, urgent, overlap. A pair of adults takes off. And like children, uncertain, half the remainder follow, half of them stay.

Wind comes… The rest of them go: a flutter of voices, the spank of wing tips, the buzzing of feathers chattering in white wings; and the jet black feet tuck under their tails.


A single Whooper Swan flies over an Icelandic lava field (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The ice slowly melts...

The sky grays out...

The first dull flakes come scudding in.

Nearby, at a vernal pool, its ragged edges slumping into the marsh, a pair of swans has stayed behind. They dip in the shallows trying to feed, weed trailing from their bills, striping their faces, thin shreds of translucent brown and green. They rove and bury in the small hard waves and the gusts lean into them, their feathers lifting like blades. They cannot stay.

[SOUND OF SWANS CALLING TAKING OFF AND FLYING]

Necks stiffen straight and long, then running on water they leap, skip, and with all the power they can bring to bear lift, flying low, crying as they wheel away....

Going to be a bumpy ride: Snowstorm coming. Nowhere to hide.


Whooper Swans avoid an approaching snowstorm (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

[MORE SWAN CALLS]

CURWOOD: Support for Mark Seth Lender’s fieldwork was provided by Iceland Naturally and Nature Photo Tours. There are pictures and more at our website LOE.org

 

Links

Haukur Snorrason

About Iceland

Nature Photo Tours

 

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