Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mute Swans in Greeley, Colorado

I believe we have a pair of Mute Swans at the Bittersweet Park lake in Greeley, Colorado. I've been walking the trail around the park six times a week for over two years now and this is the first time I've seen them. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

I walk the trail at the park near my home five to six times a week. It is rather exciting--the park is filled, daily, with hundreds of Canadian Geese; squirrels; hawks; red-winged blackbirds perched on the cattails; children walking home from school; walkers; runners; parents pushing baby strollers; children on the playground and neighbors of all ages playing basketball. 

A small gathering of Canadian Geese at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Hawk watching my chihuahua from a tree at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I wrote about this park before--it is one of the most beautiful neighborhood parks I've had the pleasure of visiting. Besides the many neighbors who use the park and the never-ending sound of laughing, giggling children, there is a surprising amount of wildlife in the park and great views of the sunrise and sunset. 

 A parting glance at Bittersweet Park in the evening. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The park also has a heart-wrenching memorial to Weld County Veterans that is absolutely beautiful. I believe it is important to honor our heroes. In addition to the Veteran's Memorial there is also a memorial to officers who died in the line of duty in Weld County. 

Veteran's Memorial at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

And, as I stated at the beginning (apologies for the digression, but I felt I had to set the scene) as a recent added attraction we now have two Mute Swans, and what appears to be two baby cygnets. 

Mute Swans (feel free to correct my identification) at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. 
All photos by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I was surprised when I first saw them. I've never seen them at the park before, and as you can imagine I use the park often, walking the trails nearly every day. My neighbors told me they've never seen the swans. But I was walking the park with my granddaughter a few weeks ago and there they were!

The evening I first saw the swans it was near dusk, which is why some of the photos have a colored tint to the water and on the birds, but they are always just gorgeous. Such graceful creatures.  

Okay, this is not a swan, but she's mentioned in my story. My chihuahua puppy, Emma adores children and attracts a lot of attention when we take her for walks, but she is surprisingly well-behaved for a puppy. Even though she can't do much damage at only four pounds, she is always walked on a leash. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

The evening we first saw the swans my granddaughter had my chihuahua puppy, Emma, and Emma was attracting more attention than the swans, running up to strangers, rolling onto her back, begging for belly rubs. My granddaughter tried to tell me there were swans in the lake, but I was busy trying to retrieve the dog who was literally rolling around the shoulders of a runner who stopped to pick her up and say hello.

Mute Swans at Bittersweet Park Lake, Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

"Grandma, did you hear me?" Layla asked. "Yes, I told her. You said he's sending a text." Where on earth that came from I have no idea. The man standing before me finally managed to unhinge Emma, who was climbing all over his shoulders like a chihuahua coat collar, and hand her back to me, then he pointed at the lake and laughed as he told me Layla had actually said there were swans nearby. 

"They arrived a few weeks ago," he said. "Everyone in the neighborhood is talking about them." He pointed at the water. I followed my granddaughter down to the water's edge and sure enough, there was two large Mute Swans and two babies following behind. 

Mute Swans at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Swans are a somewhat rare sighting in Northern Colorado. I tried to do some research and found a news article stating that a black swan was spotted in 2008 near Loveland, and swans have also been seen in Boulder and Longmont, but they're generally found in lakes and ponds at hotels where they were purchased for display. I've asked many people about the swans, including quite a few lifelong residents of Greeley, and they said they could not remember ever seeing swans in Greeley, and never at Bittersweet Park. 

Mute Swans at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Mute Swans are large birds, considered among the largest waterfowl, slightly smaller than the popular Trumpeter Swans. I think they are lovely. They have a wingspread of up to 7.9 feet. The males weigh around 26 pounds and the females weigh 20 pounds. Males are identied from females by a knob on their bills. Mute Swans are also a protected species in most states, but for some strange reason, they are considered an invasive species in Michigan!

Bottoms up! Two swans fishing in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Fossils of swans have been found in four states in the U.S.--California, Arizona, Idaho and Oregon--and their ancestry is believed to be at least 6000 years old. Mute Swans are also thought to be most closely related to Black Swans of Australia.

I believe these may be their babies based on the curve of their long necks. Photo taken at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado by Darla Sue Dollman.

Baby Mute Swans are called Cygnets, and they are a gray color until they reach maturity at around a year old. It is shocking to watch their speed of travel--the babies can cross the lake in a matter of minutes. Surprisingly, they reach mature size at around three months old, but retain their gray feathers until they are closer to a year.

Mute Swans lay four to ten eggs and it's possible these swans are carrying more on their back, but I walk this park nearly every day and have only seen two.

The back of a parent swan is flat like a boat. Their wings rise up like doors on hinges and the babies climb onto their backs, then the adult lowers its wing, protecting the babies from rain, hail, cold, and the view of predators so they can sleep.

Hawk at Bittersweet Park picking at a bird wing. I don't think it killed the bird, which appears to be considerably larger than the hawk. It most likely scavenged the remains after dogs attacked the bird. Photo taken in Greeley, Colorado by Darla Sue Dollman. 

 Sadly, many people bring dogs to this park without leashes (I am all for dog-walking and enjoy seeing the many dogs at the park, but unleashed dogs kill the wildlife) and I have found feathers near the water's edge. I've also seen hawks that appeared to be cleaning up after a kill. I took a walk around the park this afternoon and couldn't see the swans, but the cattail patch has grown huge over the past few years. I have prayed for their safety and the safety of their young ones, hoping they are resting safely and peacefully in the cattails.

Mute Swans in their nest at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Mute Swans build their nest at the water's edge and these swans are too close to the walking trail for my comfort, but they are large birds and hopefully will be safe.

Mute Swan at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I am a little concerned about this bird. I've seen it with its leg raised in the air a few times now and will call the wildlife rehabilitation center in a nearby county to see if they can check it out and make sure it wasn't injured by other animals. If you go back to the photo showing the two swans fishing you can see that one of them appears to be holding one leg at an odd angle behind it when it is upside down in the water. That's what happens when people walk their dogs without leashes!

Mute Swan at sunset. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The swans are beautiful and I hope that local residents respect their great beauty and help protect them. They mate for life and return to the same nest every year, even though they migrate, so they will be a lovely addition to this gorgeous neighborhood park in Northern Colorado.