Not Quite Walden

“A lake is a landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”
    Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I live a couple of miles from a small private lake. The 31-acre (12.5 hectare) lake is surrounded by homes on wooded lots, the predominant tree being Ponderosa pine. The lake is shallow, only 30 feet (9.1 m) and exhibits the effects of high nutrient concentrations, mainly dense areas of cattails. The lake's small island is entirely covered with them.

As mentioned, this is a private lake, with posted signs making it clear that lake access is permissible only to residents of the development. I know several people who live there and have driven past the lake many times, but being one who follows the rules until there's reason not to, I've never spent time at the lake, never really gave it a good look to see what sort of photography might be done there. Thanks to friends who live in the area, that changed recently.

A Small, Beautiful Lake

Morning light on a small local lake

Morning light on a small local lake. (Smartphone photo)

As a preamble to a program at a recent Mission Mountain Audubon Society chapter meeting our board president mentioned that a pair of trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) had been visiting the lake described above. As a resident of that lake neighborhood he invited everyone to come see the swans. While inviting 40-some people to come trample the surroundings of the lake, freak out nesting birds, and likely annoy the heck out of the residents there, I suspect he felt confident few would take him up on the offer. On the morning after the meeting I did, and since then have returned nearly two dozen times. In all of those visits, some morning and some evening, I've not seen a single person who'd attended the meeting. (In fact, I've been completely alone there during most of my visits.) That doesn't mean no one's come, but it's pretty clear the lake hasn't been overrun by MMAS chapter members.

Birds or no birds, the lake is lovely. Morning sun lights the tall pines, which reflect in the lake, giving the water a deep green color. The water is often calm, perhaps protected by the trees from light wind; in those conditions the lake surface is mirror-like. On my first visit I found the swans near the south end of the lake, which, conveniently, has a couple of parking spaces. I set up near the lake's edge and started making pictures. The birds paid no attention while I fired away, moving around a bit to adjust compositions, and having a grand time of it. Properly exposing a sunlit white bird can be a bit tricky, and will leave most everything else in the frame fairly dark. Given the calm water and clear reflections of the swans, this worked nicely. Eventually they moved away toward the middle of the lake, getting out of range of my long lens.

Large, Beautiful Birds

A pair of trumpeter swans in morning light, Montana, U.S.

The trumpeters in morning light, Montana, U.S.

The swans are gorgeous; large, very white, and unbanded, which isn't great for science, but makes them wonderful subjects for photography. They seem very relaxed on the little lake, moving slowly together, dabbling in the shallows, occasionally snoozing.

Of course, the swans haven't been alone on the lake. It's spring, after all, and there's plenty of noisy activity from coots, red-wing and yellow-headed blackbirds, mallards, and great blue herons. A pie-billed grebe has been reported, but Ive not seen it.

There are human residents, too, who can paddle and fish on the lake. On a walk around the lake one can find row boats and kayaks stashed in the trees along the shore. I'd have expected this to limit the wildlife activity on the lake, but so far that doesn't seem to be the case.

In the weeks following my initial mid-April visit I returned both mornings and evenings, sometimes finding the swans, sometimes not. I've spoken with several bird-folk, most far more expert than I about the swans. We hoped they'd nest on the lake, but clearly they haven't. Consensus is that these swans are not a nesting pair. Beyond that there's no certainty, but plenty of conjecture and guesses. Fortunately, I'm a photographer, not a biologist, so I can leave the science to others and just enjoy watching, and photographing, these swans until they decide to leave.

June, 2019

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