I live in a lake community. I never use the lake. I don't have a boat. I don't fish. The beach is for moms and kids. I have been to an event at the clubhouse ...once. So, I generally take the lake for granted. It is a topographical feature of my world. I notice if it’s frozen or not. I marvel at the stamina of the ice fisherman in the winter. I try to stem my jealousy of the tulips planted at the park. I also do not have lakefront or lake view property. But I drive up and down the shore road every day, sometimes many times a day.
The lake had been ice-free until we were slammed by the arctic blast. It was often single digits on the thermometer when I got up. Think cold. It is not Canada cold or Alaska cold, but New Jersey cold. There were long down coats, gloves and yes, even a furry hat involved-the kind with ear flaps.
Last Sunday after my book group meeting, my friend Diane and I were going to brave the bitter temperatures and go birding from the car. Cars make amazing blinds. (Although why that should be true of shiny silver SUVs is beyond me.) As I came down the mountain to pick her up, I looked at the lake. (There had been a growing open piece of water on the lake for about a week. I would creep past the open water at about 20 miles an hour, to the disgruntlement of the people behind me.)
But on this day as I whizzed past at say 30, I glanced at the open water and saw.........a swan with yellow wing tags. That was not a Mute Swan!
When my friend got into the car we hustled back up the road to the lake. Now, there is not parking anywhere near the open water. So we parked where we could and hiked back up the hill into the wind.
And there it was. A grayish brownish dirty looking swan with 2 bright yellow wing tags. It was feeding. It was definitely not a Mute Swan. Who would tag a mute swan, anyway? It had to be an immature Tundra Swan. Oooooh. We were doing the happy dance. Then we left. We continued on our drive "around the block" to the local state park, a swing up to the farm country to look for Buntings and back to see the swan again.
Gasp. It was gone.
Later that night I posted the swan on our local listserve. There was a response that it might be a Trumpeter Swan. The eastern re-introduction project uses yellow wing tags. I jumped back in the car and drove back down in the gloaming.
I stood there with tears streaming down my face in a lake effect snow squall trying to ascertain if that lump of snow was a swan. Or maybe it was that one over there. The wind chill was -20. I came home. I told myself the light was bad.
My friends Diane and Suzanne and I met the next morning. This time we had scopes and cameras. As soon as we parked and walked down, there it was. In the water, then walking on the frozen lake. We stood on the side of the road looking down through the trees at it. We could read its tags. It had a V-shape to the top bill. Could it be? A Trumpeter Swan? Here? In New Jersey?