Updated: Aug 20
Blooming Grove - It shouldn't be too surprising that with their incredibly active lifestyle and tiny lungs, that birds are among the most sensitive of wildlife with regard to potential effects of deadly pollutioin. Whether in the air, or in species like ducks and swans who spend a great proportion of their lives in water, they are susceptible to death due to air pollution and toxins in the water. With both heat spells and smoke from fires drifting down to the Hudson Valley from Canada, there were weeks when it was a toss of the coin, so to speak, whether this crop of Swan Cygnets in Lake Hildegarde were going to make it to Fall.
Out on what was perhaps a first family distance swim in March, they looked like little cotton balls bobbing in an ocean.
September is when they show the first signs of adulthood, including slight changes of color from brown to more and more white, especially along the lower part of their bodies. It takes about an entire year, however, for them to turn white and for their beak to become orange.
There were times during June when the lake was almost fully covered with algae. Water systems thrive when there is some mocrobiologic action going on, but there is a limit.
In June their potential to succomb to a massive cover of algae was a real threat because of the toxic aflatoxins it can create. Aflatoxins are fungus related molds. The two other most likely causes of swan deaths (aside from predators like foxes and coyotes) are lead sinkers fallen off of fishing poles, and flight into electric lines. Swans have very good lateral vision but poor vision straight ahead. Some electric companies are now hanging bobbles on the lines to warn them.
The limit with algae is when the heat combined with humidity causes the algae to start putting out "aflatoxins". And while Gilda Swan is teaching them the lessons of survival, she tries to show them where the clearest water channels are safe enough for their travels, and the best places along the shore to take a rest.
Mom Swan, Greta Swan teaching the cygnets how to travel safely through the algae blooms
July brought the turning point for this brave little family. While the humans in New York were struggling to survive massive rains and flooding, the water in the lakes cleared up enough to give the swans a big second chance to thrive, and the continuing rains helped even more.
Of the tiny dots of their first outing on March 20, we think were 6 or 7 cygnets, Five survived those first few months . And the rest of the summer was all about growing, learning to find the best food, and sticking together for protection against the foxes, coyotesand otherr predators.
The next two weeks, as they swim into September are crucial. They will start taking short flights. They actually could be seen practicing their flapping skills in recent weeks during August. By Mid September chances are they will take a more flights to other nearby lakes. Swans are homebodies and rarely go more distance than 30 miles. In this area that would easily bring them to Tomahawk Lake, Brown's Pond and Beaver Dam Lake. As their flying skills grow, so does their chances for longterm survival, since if one lake becomes uninhabitable , they can check the other water bodies.
Lake Hildegarde has had swan families for at least most if not all 25 of the most recent years. We must watch the degree of pollution we might add to their physical stress levels, whether through increasing fires, construction stormwater runoff, lead leaching into the water from electric lines and fishing weights, and infiltration of sewage effluent that seeps into the aquifer when population increases to a point where the water's health cannot regenerate.
Almost fully grown they beginning to turn a lighter color and practicing some early flight techniques. They are so perfectly posed here you have to look twice to see that there are 3 cygnets to the right.
For now, Blooming Grove can be proud that they have added another 5 large, healthy and extremely beutiful mute swans to our local environment.
Will they come back? There is a good chance that several of them may. Like human teenagers and young adults they will explore for awhile. When they meet a potential good mate they will be drawn to the area they have had sucess in and where they accumulated their knowledge about how to survive. Often they will settle where there is another pair, since it signals a good place to live.