A bevy of swans is an impressive sight. A lake turned white with thousands of the large white birds is enough to make you stop breathing, at least for a few seconds.
Currently, there are more than 40,000 tundra swans in Northern Utah, roughly 31,000 of the birds are on the waters at the Bear River Wildlife Refuge near Brigham City. It is the highest number of birds counted on the refuge marshes at this time of year.
It is, as one spectator said, “A truly incredible sight.”
The swans flew into Utah this month on their annual northern migration from California to Canada and Alaska. They will move south over the same route, back to California, in November for winter. With the onset of good weather here in Utah, they will begin flying north, but the big flights won’t come until the end of March and into April. Until then the viewing opportunities are, as noted, “incredible.’’
Most of the large birds are tundra swans, the smaller of the species. It is possible in these flocks of swans to see a few of the larger trumpeter swans.
Howard Browers, biologist at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, said he hasn’t seen trumpeter swans among the tundra swans yet but pointed out: “They may well be here. It’s hard to tell by sight. It is easier to identify the (trumpeter swans) by their call. Then when you see the two together you can tell the larger trumpeter swans.’’
Trumpeter swans are the largest of the swan species with a wing span of nearly 10 feet and weighing upwards of 33 pounds. At one time, they were on the endangered species list. They are recovering and are now a species of concern on the threatened status.
This is not the largest migration of swans into Utah. The peak of more than 60,000 tundra swans were visiting Utah prior to the floods of 1983–84. “For whatever reason,’’ reported Phil Douglass, with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, “we’ve never gotten back to those numbers. It’s not that the population has declined, we just think the birds may have changed their migration flights because of the floods.’’
Where are the best places to see the huge wedges of swans?
The Bear River Refuge has an auto driving tour around its marshes that is open to the public.
“Usually the birds are out quite a distance and are difficult to see up close. Now they’re closer and there are much better viewing opportunities,’’ said Browers.
Douglass suggested those interested in viewing swans “up close,’’ consider driving the extra distance north to the Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area. “It’s a little more remote, but the birds are closer,’’ he said.
The large number of bald and golden eagles that visit Northern Utah in the winter have begun to fly north. There are still a few around and can be seen at Bear River, Ogden and Farmington bays.
Browers pointed out that along with the swans, “we’re getting other species of migrating birds. Now we are holding about 3,000 avocets on the (Bear River marshes). That’s a record number for this early in the year.’’
There is a visitors center at the Bear River site that is open six days a week and offers information in swans and other wildlife found in the area.
Those visiting the viewing areas should go prepared with proper attire for the outdoors and binoculars or spotting scopes. And, of course, cameras are also nice to have.