Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Episode 554 (12-7-20): Winter Brings Swans from the Tundra to the Virginia Tidewater

 Click to listen to episode (4:39)

Sections below are the following:

Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 12-4-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of December 7, 2020.  This episode is a revised repeat of an episode from November 2011.

SOUND – ~6 sec 

This week, we feature mystery sounds from a long-necked and white-feathered winter visitor to Virginia.  Have a listen for about 20 seconds and see if you can guess what’s making these calls.  And here’s a hint: the name might suggest gracefulness in a very cold place.

SOUND – ~19 sec

If you guessed Tundra Swans, you’re right!  You heard, first, individual Tundra Swan calls in a recording by Lang Elliott from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs; and second, a Tundra Swan flock, in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recording.  Formerly called Whistling Swans, this species gets its current name from the birds’ breeding range in the treeless, Arctic habitat known as tundra.  In the non-breeding winter season, Tundra Swans are found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, with the Chesapeake Bay being a key area.  Between fall and early spring in the Bay region, large flocks inhabit lakes, rivers, bays, estuaries, and flooded fields.  They feed in shallow water on aquatic plants and animals, particularly clams.  They also feed on grains in agricultural fields.  In turn, their eggs and young are preyed upon by various mammals and birds.  And swans are sometimes victims of a behavior called kleptoparasitism, when swooping gulls steal a clam right out of a swan’s bill.

The Tundra Swan is the most widespread of three swan species found in North America; the other two are the native Trumpeter Swan and the non-native Mute Swan.  The Trumpeter Swan, whose large historical wintering range included Virginia, was pushed to near extinction in the 1900s by habitat loss, pollution, and hunting for their feathers; the population is now expanding following conservation efforts.  The Mute Swan, originally from Europe and Asia, has become widely established in the United States, living year-round in parks and other human spaces but also in natural habitats, where its aggressive behavior can displace native species. 

Thanks to Lang Elliott and to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Tundra Swan sounds.  We close with about 45 seconds of music composed for this episode by Torrin Hallett, a graduate student at Lamont School of Music in Denver.  Here’s “Tundra Swan Song.”

MUSIC – ~ 44 sec – instrumental 


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water. 


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 90, 11-28-11. 

The sounds of individual Tundra Swan calls (opening sound and first set of featured “mystery sounds”) were taken from “Tundra Swan” on the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott; Lang Elliot’s work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site, http://www.musicofnature.org/.  The sound of a Tundra Swan flock (second set of featured “mystery sounds”) was taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sound Clips Web site at http://www.fws.gov/video/sound.htm.

“Tundra Swan Song” is copyright 2020 by Torrin Hallett, used with permission.  Torrin is a 2018 graduate of Oberlin College and Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio, and a 2020 graduate in Horn Performance from Manhattan School of Music in New York.  As of 2020-21, he is a performance certificate candidate at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver.  More information about Torrin is available online at https://www.facebook.com/torrin.hallett.  Thanks very much to Torrin for composing the piece especially for Virginia Water Radio.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at http://newstandardbluegrass.com.


Common American Swan (now Tundra Swan) painting painting originally published between 1827 and 1838 by John James Audubon in Birds of America (plate LXLVII [67]).  Image made available for public use by the National Audubon Society, online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america; specific URL for this image is https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/common-american-swan, as of 12/4/20.

Tundra Swan in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, June 30, 2018.  Photo by Lisa Hupp, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at http://digitalmedia.fws.gov; specific URL for the photo was https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/30970/rec/2, as of 12/7/20.


County occurrences of the Tundra Swan in Virginia.  Map by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” accessed online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?Menu=_.Occurrence&bova=040044&version=18600, 12/4/20.


The scientific name of the Tundra Swan is Cygnus columbianus.

The following information is excerpted from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Tundra Swan,” online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040044&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=18600.

Physical Description

“The adult is completely white.  The legs and feet are black and the bill is typically black except for a small yellow area in front of the eye although some lack this yellow mark.  The females are slightly smaller than the males. …”


“The breeding season is from May-June.  Hatching occurs from late June to July.  …This species is monogamous, and they pair for life.  Pair formation begins in wintering flocks and is gradual and inconspicuous.  The male defends the female from intruders and returns to her to perform a triumph ceremony. …”


“They are strongly territorial and will sometimes threaten with the head submerged.  …Migration is along the major migration corridor from Alaska to Chesapeake Bay.  They migrate as family units and several families and non-breeding birds combine in a single flock.  …The Chesapeake Bay migration is as follows: Fall = October 15-December 5, peak = October 25-November 30; Spring = February 25-April 30, peak = March 10-April 1.”


“They feed in shallow water and usually just immerses the head and neck.  They may tip-up in deeper water *425*. Foods are taken from the bottoms of marshes and small lakes.  This species usually does not dive for food.  This species does great damage on feeding grounds by creating holes in the mud and trampling vegetation.  They are grazers and grubbers on land.  They pull up and eat entire plants.  They feed mainly in extensive shallow, fresh and brackish waters.  …In the Chesapeake Bay, brackish estuarine bay foods include widgeon grass and pondweed.  Fresh estuarine bay foods include wild celery and pondweed.  Important foods are leaves, stems, and roots of submerged aquatics.  Foods include tubers and seeds of pondweed, leaves, stems, and tubers of aquatic and marsh plants, corn, potatoes, soybeans, winter wheat, frogs, minnows, shellfish, wild celery, and fox-tail grass.  They feed in Chesapeake Bay area corn stubble fields.  They take naiads, mollusks, bivalves, roots and stems of emergent marsh plants, herbaceous fruit, adult insects, snails, worms, fish fry and adults, tadpoles,, tubers of arrowheads, lady's thumb, horsetail, and burr reed.”


“Nesting and nest sites are from the Arctic Coast south to the Alaska Peninsula and barren ground of Canada.  They are also north of the Arctic Circle or the near the Arctic and south along the west side of Hudson Bay.  60% nest in Alaska on tundra, the main shore of a lake or pond within 20 yards of water, small islands or points in lakes heath tundra, hummocks in marshes or tidal meadows, or rarely on level stretches in marsh or meadow areas.  …” 


“Chesapeake Bay is the most important wintering ground.  A few winter on the Great Lakes and on the seaboards of the east and west coasts of the United States.  48% winter in the Atlantic flyway.  Chesapeake Bay has 40000/year. Back Bay, Virginia to Pamlico Sound, North Carolina has 14000.  They are found on lakes, large rivers, bays, estuaries, flooded fields, salt lakes, and temporarily flooded areas.  In the Chesapeake Bay, 76% are found in brackish estuarine bays, 9% in salt estuarine bays, 8% in fresh estuarine bays, and 6% in slightly brackish estuarine bays.  They winter as family units.  They form large wintering flocks and are highly social.”


Used for Audio 

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Birds,” online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/all/birds/all.  The Tundra Swan entry is online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/tundra_swan. 

Cornell University and New York Sea Grant, “New York Invasive Species Information/Mute Swan,” online at http://nyis.info/invasive_species/mute-swan/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org.  The Tundra Swan entry is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tundra_Swan/.  The Trumpeter Swan entry is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Trumpeter_Swan/.  The Mute Swan entry is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mute_Swan/. 

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Birds of the World,” online at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna (subscription required).  The Tundra Swan entry is online at https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/tunswa/cur/introduction.  The Trumpeter Swan entry is online at https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/truswa/cur/introduction.  The Mute Swan entry is online at https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/mutswa/cur/introduction.

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Tundra,” written by Feng Sheng Hu, online at https://www.britannica.com/science/tundra. 

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay-3rd Edition, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md., 2006, pages 161-162.

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, N.Y., 2001. 

Science Direct, “Kleptoparasitism,” by K. Nishimura in Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, 2010, online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/kleptoparasitism.

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at http://vafwis.org/fwis/?Title=VaFWIS+Species+Information+By+Name&vUT=Visitor.  The Tundra Swan entry is at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040044&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=18600. 

For More Information about Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere

John James Audubon, Birds of America, online by The National Audubon Society at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america.  The Common American Swan (former name for Tundra Swan) is online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/common-american-swan. 

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.”  The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird. Information is available online at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at https://ebird.org/home.  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Virginia Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minn., 2002.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, “Animal Diversity Web,” online at https://animaldiversity.org/.

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “List of Native and Naturalized Fauna of Virginia, April 2018,” online (as a PDF) at https://dwr.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/virginia-native-naturalized-species.pdf.

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at http://www.virginiabirds.org/.  The Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site, online at http://www.xeno-canto.org/.  This site provides bird songs from around the world. 


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Birds” subject category, and the Chesapeake Bay entry under the “Rivers, Streams, and Other Surface Water” subject category. 

For another episode on winter birds in the Chesapeake Bay region, see Episode 150, 2-25-13.

Following are other music pieces composed by Torrin Hallett for Virginia Water Radio, with episodes featuring the music.
“A Little Fright Music” – used in Episode 548, 10-26-20, on water-related passages in fiction and non-fiction, for Halloween.
“Beetle Ballet” – used in Episode 525, 5-18-20, on aquatic beetles.

“Chesapeake Bay Ballad” – used in Episode 537, 8-10-20, on conditions in the Chesapeake Bay.

“Corona Cue” – used in Episode 517, 3-23-20, on the coronavirus pandemic.

“Geese Piece” – used most recently in Episode 440, 10-1-18, on E-bird.
“Lizard Lied” – used in Episode 514, 3-2-20, on lizards.
“New Year’s Water” – used in Episode 349, 1-2-17, on the New Year.
“Rain Refrain” – used most recently in Episode 455, 1-14-19, on record Virginia precipitation in 2019.
“Spider Strike” – used in Episode 523, 5-4-20, on fishing spiders.

“Tropical Tantrum” – used most recently in Episode 489, 9-9-19, on storm surge and Hurricane Dorian.
“Turkey Tune” – used in Episode 343, 11-21-16, on the Wild Turkey.  


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post. 

2020 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2018 Science SOLs

Grades K-5 Living Systems and Processes
K.7 – Plants and animals have basic needs and life processes.
1.5 – Animals, including humans, have basic life needs that allow them to survive.
2.5 – Living things are part of a system.
3.4 – Adaptations allow organisms to satisfy life needs and respond to the environment.
3.5 – Aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems support a diversity of organisms.
4.3 – Organisms, including humans, interact with one another and with the nonliving components in the ecosystem.

Grades K-5 Earth Resources
3.8 – Natural and human influences on ecosystems.
4.8 – Virginia’s important natural resources. 

Grade 6
6.8 – Land and water have roles in watershed systems.
6.9 – Humans impact the environment and individuals can influence public policy decisions related to energy and the environment.

Life Science
LS.6     – Populations in a biological community interact and are interdependent.
LS.7 – Adaptations support an organism’s survival in an ecosystem.
LS.8     – Change occurs in ecosystems, communities, populations, and organisms over time.
LS.9     – Relationships exist between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.
LS.11 – Populations of organisms can change over time.

BIO.7–   Populations change through time.
BIO.8 – Dynamic equilibria exist within populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20 – on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.