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Idaho Fish and Game

Swans Visit Southeast Idaho

Swans Stop Over In Southeast Idaho Springtime is here and swans have returned to Swanlake, Idaho. Living up to its name, the lake currently hosts over 150 swans and several thousands ducks and geese. It is alive with quacks, honks, whistles, wing flapping and birds anxious to head north. Swan Lake is 48 miles south of Pocatello next to Highway 91 just past the general store that makes up Swanlake. It is a major stop over Tundra and Trumpeter Swans headed north. Joining the swans is a delightful variety of migrating ducks and geese. Most of the swans using the lake are Tundra swans. Magnificent birds, they have 6 to 7 foot wingspans and weigh 20 to 25 pounds. These are the flying mega fortresses of the bird world. Big, strong and tough they fly thousands of miles each year. Most are returning from the Salt Lake Marshes where 40,000 rafted during the winter and the Central Valley of California. They move north as the ice comes off ponds and lakes. The only bird bigger than the Tundra swan is the Trumpeter swan, which can weigh up to 40 pounds and is the biggest flying bird in the world. On the water Trumpeter and Tundra swans are very hard to tell apart until you hear them sound off. A flock of trumpeters sound likes an orchestra warming up. Tundra's have a deep almost goose like sound that bounces off the water that is often mistaken for the Canada geese. Swans dot the lake looking like white puffs on blue water. Mixed in are hundreds of ducks and geese. Cavorting about in flight over the lake are sleek northern pintails sporting a black and white spring suit of colors with a spiked black tail feather sticking. This festive springtime ritual is part of courtship. Goldeneye ducks with shimmering greenish heads; bright golden eyes and a jaunty white cheek patch make wakes in the water like miniature tugboats churning along. Cinnamon Teal and Green wing teal keep their distance from swans as they swim along bobbing their heads. Teal are pint size, weighing not much more than a pound. One of the fastest flyers in the waterfowl world they are also one of the most beautiful. The Cinnamon teal glisten in the sun, a glowing cinnamon color radiates off their feathers. Novice and experienced birders enjoy this springtime show. Canada geese ignore bird watchers as they go through spring courtship rituals. They preen, chase other geese away from their partners and go through a series of neck streches and wing flapping to stake out their mate and the territory around them. It is a great show. To help you identify these winged creatures buy, barrow or go to the library and check out a bird book. They are easy to use and have great colored pictures of birds that help you identify what you see. Peterson Field Guides and the Audubon Field Guide to North American birds are useful tools and full of interesting information. Take a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope along to get the best view of the birds possible. Beg, barrow but don't steal a pair of the best binoculars or a spotting scope. Good optics magically cut the long distances and gives you a fuller view of the swans and their antics. Take A Spring Drive Swanlake is easy to get to. During March and into early April you can expect to see swans, ducks, geese and shorebirds. You can stop at one of the pullouts next to Swan Lake and listen to the gabble of waterfowl from your car. Don't forget to take binoculars and a spotting scope and plan on enjoying watching and listening to these magnificent birds. Good Optics Are Important A pair of good binoculars or a spotting scope is a must to watch springtime waterfowl. Good "Glass" as experienced birders call it makes a significant difference. Waterfowl are normally 50 to 150 yards away and a spotting scope of 20 power or more puts them at your fingertip. A first time birders are probably better off borrowing a pair of binoculars and going with someone that has a spotting scope before making an investment in optics. You don't have to be a birding "Nut" to enjoy binoculars or a spotting scope. My next door neighbor uses his spotting scope to watch deer from his porch miles away on the hillside and one mom in my neighbor hood laughs about watching her kids a quarter of a mile away at the bus stop in the morning. Mom's eye is omnipotent. Once you decide binoculars or a spotting scope is what you need, get a good one. Try out some of the top name brands. Invest in a good name product like Leopold, Leica or Fijinon because they will last you a lifetime and are durable enough to let your kids or friends use them. Leica Offers Photo Options Watching swans with a Leica model 62 spotting scope was a delight. The 20-60 power eyepiece let me adjust the magnification without loosing clarity. Leica is the benchmark of spotting scopes. At 100 yards I could look into the eye of a swan. This model has an adaptor for taking pictures that fits many 35 mm or digital camera. A dual use optic really stretches the budget and means carrying less gear in the field. It has an exceptional focal length that is very forgiving and precise focusing adjustments. Its light gathering capabilities are amazing. Leica model 62 spotting scope's crystal clear viewing is breath taking. At Swan Lake a motorist pulled over and asked what I was doing. I invited him to look at the swans through the spotting scope. He wanted to buy it from me on the spot. New technology sets this scope apart. Wildlife photography requires good telephoto lenses. High power lenses are expensive and often cost more than a Leica spotting scope. I have taken photos with other spotting scopes without much success and a lot of hassle. With the model 62 you can attach an adaptor, snap on your camera, focus and shoot. With digital cameras you can hold cameras up to the lens and shoot or use an adaptor. Before you buy any spotting scope check out the specifications for use with your camera! Another outstanding optic company is Fujinon. I have used Fujinon binoculars for most of my career with fish and game agencies. Fujinon makes precision camera lenses used worldwide and exceptional binoculars. While on patrol, the Fujinon binoculars assigned to me survived being dropped in the Columbia River, below zero weather and thumping along in a patrol truck for thousands of miles and still turned in superb performance. The new Fujinon CD Series are crisp and clear and one of the world's brightest roof prism binoculars. They are easy to carry, compact, 100 percent waterproof, rubber coated and carry a limited lifetime warranty. Focusing does not tire your eyes. Very important to me since I wear glasses, the retractable eyepieces make for comfortable viewing. When scooping out Swan Lake I use my binoculars to find the birds and then zero in on individual birds with the spotting scope. Get the best optics you can. You want to see the swans and ducks clearly and up close. Like the mom who watches her kids at the bus stop and friends of mine who borrow my binoculars for sporting events, there are many other uses for "Good Glass," year around. Just try and keep the spotting scope away from your star gazing kids or you might never get it back! Looking at the moon is too cool! Not to mention taking pictures of it.