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Birds of a feather

Tundra Swans are extremely rare visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador. This one landed near St. James Elementary School in Port aux Basques. – © Randolph White

SOUTHWEST COAST – April Anderson isn’t much of a birder, but even she knew there was something strange about the large bird that landed near St. James Elementary School on Monday afternoon, Oct. 26.

“First I thought it was a goose, but noticed it looked different than the other geese I have seen. It didn’t appear injured. I figured it was confused. But it was really tame which confused me even more, so I contacted the Devoe Ranch (in Codroy Valley) to see if it was one of their birds, but it wasn’t,” stated Anderson, who had been at the school to pick up her daughter.

Anderson informed a nearby fishery officer.

“It didn’t even hiss at them and they were around the bird,” observed Anderson.

Wildlife officials transported what was later identified as a tundra swan to the Codroy Valley, where it was safely released into the Grand Codroy Estuary. The protected wetland site has in excess of 925 hectares and has been recognized internationally for its importance and diverse species of it attracts. Even so, Mark Lomond estimates there hasn’t been another tundra swan spotted in this area for about 20 years.

Lomond is the chair of the Sou’wes Newfoundland Delta Waterfowl and says that the tundra swan is a bird that normally doesn’t come anywhere near here. A migration map provided by Sou’wes Delta shows that the species doesn’t usually venture further east in Canada beyond the Quebec-Ontario border.

“This is apparently the third, possibly fourth, on record for the province I’m told. With one in Codroy in the early 2000s,” stated Lomond.

Avid birdwatchers have already rushed to the estuary to see the swan, including trio Denise McIsaac, Randoph White and Tina Randell. They were successful in finding the swan, and all three agree that the trip was well worth it even if the weather was a bit unpleasant at times.

“It was a little inclement coming out. It was rain and snow and a bit of fog, all three combined,” says White, who has a background in aviation and is fascinated with flight. He’s been a birdwatcher for a long time. “For me, I find it’s medicinal. You forget everything. If you can appreciate what a bird is and what it does, how it moves around, and it flies, that’s pretty amazing.”

White’s excitement is palpable and equally shared by his traveling companions.

Randell is happy to report that when they spotted it, the swan seemed content to hang around with the large number of geese currently in residence at the estuary. This is her third birdwatching trip to the estuary this summer.

“It’s flying nicely. It’s not injured or anything,” says Randell. “I managed to get probably 10, 15 shots in flight because it circled around us.”

MacIsaac believes the swan may have been in shock when it first landed at the school. She’s been birdwatching for about four years, and that the group got lucky finding the tundra swan so quickly given the enormous size of the estuary.

“His colour is in our favour. He’s white, and really big. He’s really big. It didn’t take too long,” says McIsaac. “Birds are exciting, especially the rare ones. This one is definitely up there.”

It’s the very first time all three of them have ever seen a tundra swan in person and likely the last, at least in this province.

“We’re not going to see this bird again, probably ever,” says White. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Lomond speculates the swan may linger for a while in the estuary, hopefully providing himself and other avid birdwatchers with more opportunities to come out for a look.

“It will stay long enough to get back to good health and then I suspect when all the geese sense it’s time start migrating it will too,” says Lomond. “The tundra swan spends summers up in places like Nunavut and can handle our weather conditions fine. It’s also a dabbler so it can tip up on the surface and reach far down to reach shellfish and plants. It will have no issue surviving here.”

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