National Geographic : 1975 Jul
Swan LAVIES NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER study the birds from North Carolina's lakes and estuaries to Arctic breeding grounds. 4COLOR-DYED SWAN BELOW!" As our floatplane circled low over the tundra of Alaska's North Slope, pilot Jim King's sudden shout called our attention to a pair of swans swimming on a lake; one bird's plumage bore patches of familiar orange dye. Surely it had to be one of the 48 swans we had marked on Chesapeake Bay the pre vious winter. The pilot dipped a wing, sized up lake depth, wind direction, and room for takeoff, then set the plane down. As a U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service waterfowl expert, Jim knew the swans' habits. He taxied on the water to herd the birds onto land. After a short stalk with my tripod-mounted telescope, I verified the code-C028-on the black neckband. My records identified it as an adult female handled less than six months earlier near Galesville, Maryland-3,500 miles away! I felt truly elated: This bird-later named Hope-was the very first Chesapeake Bay swan sighted in Alaska. The pair were molting, and thus flightless. We placed a blue (for Alaska) neckband on C028's unmarked mate, and he became for us A301, nicknamed Bud. That event of an Alaskan summer day in 1970 was a milestone in my seven-year pur suit and study of the far-wandering North American whistling swan, Olor columbianus, one of the most elegant of our native water fowl.* Comparatively little has been known about the migratory behavior of this graceful bird, whose yearly round-trip voyages link the Western and Middle Atlantic States with the rim of the Arctic. And no one knows for sure how the species got its name; its cry is more of a baying than a whistling. Adult whistlers are physically distinguished from their close relatives, the trumpeter swans, primarily by their smaller size. Most mature birds also have yellow spots in front of the eyes. Some of my friends have puzzled over my giving up a medical career for studies in conservation and environmental health. But, I respond, wouldn't they perhaps trade what ever they are doing to witness the spectacle *The author's research was supported through Johns Hopkins University by the National Geographic Society, the U. S . Air Force, the World Wildlife Fund, the Chesa peake Bay Foundation, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Prudhoe Bay Environmental Committee, and many state agencies.