I visited a real-life “Swan Lake” today in Heber Springs, Arkansas. The town is the winter home of more than 100 trumpeter swans. From mid-November through February several local lakes are their homes. The story goes that several years ago, three trumpeter swans somehow got off course and ended up in Arkansas. Normally they hadn’t gone any further south than Kansas or Missouri. But, these three brought back more of their friends and eventually this became a popular winter destination for these birds.
The swans are the largest waterfowl in North America weighing 30-35 pounds and boasting an 8-foot wingspan. They stand nearly 4 feet tall. When they were standing near me, they didn’t seem quite that tall, but I imagine when they completely extend their necks upward, they probably are.
They were quite entertaining to observe. Most of the time they were peacefully gliding across the lakes in pairs or small groups, but they did have some more exciting behaviors. At one point a large group of swans decided to really put on a show, or rather a parade. Mostly in a line, they swam across the lake with their necks synchronized stretching up and down making the loud trumpeting sound that is their namesake. That was amazing. Other times they seemed to dance on the water with their wings extended or running across the waves to take off in flight or upon landing. Then, there was the bickering among members of the group that resulted in snapping beaks and annoyed honking sounds.
The advertised location of the swans is Magness Lake, which is a privately owned lake. That location has a fence between the viewers and the lake, so I opted to go to two other unnamed private lakes, that also allow visitors, but have an unrestricted shoreline. I found them by following advice I had read to “ask a local” where the swans are. The lakes are down a two-lane paved rural road a ways from the highway, but not too hard to find with the landmark directions I had.
The only feed that is recommended for the swans is shelled corn, which was abundantly provided at both locations. The birds were quite adept at eating at the feeder, but they also were assisted by visitors that tossed the corn into the lake, where the swans happily submerged their beaks and gobbled the golden goodness.
The best time to visit the swans is from late afternoon to sunset because they spend their days in fields looking for fallen corn instead of hanging out at the lake.
And, the sun goes down on Swan Lake.
The early bird sees the sunrise. I decided to join the swans once again the next morning. My thoughts in planning this were two-fold. One, I would have a different light for photos and two, I hoped to see the swans take off from the lake, since they normally leave during the day. The lighting was great and instead of take-offs, I had landings.
The fly-ins were incredible, heralded by majestic trumpeting echoing in the distance growing louder as the swans emerged from the horizon. The swans on the lake seemed to reply back like air traffic controllers making sure the path was clear.
Their approach was like the landing of an airplane. They circled the lake in a descending spiral. Their feet jutted out as landing gear and they positioned their wings as rudders as they encroached the surface of the lake.
The splash down was climatic as the arrivals skidded across the water and all the swans on the lake trumpeted their approval, welcoming their new friends.
No matter how many eloquent words I find or how many beautiful pictures I post, they cannot capture the experience. If you are enchanted with these majestic creatures, check out this short video I shared on my You Tube channel.