Each November around Thanksgiving or early December, as fall begins to become winter, we take that scenic river road drive along the mighty Mississippi River by Harpers Ferry up to Lansing and beyond to see an amazing sight and to hear the bluffs echo of maybe 50,000 tundra swans bugling as they stop to fuel up during migration each November/December. Then we usually continue to drive north to the Brownsville overlook on Highway 26 about 15 miles north of Lansing along the scenic river where we continue to see more swans, ducks and eagles. Late November we found the swans closer to Harpers Ferry in the backwater area and in the early part of November up north around Brownsville on the river.
I would start south and work your way up to be sure to find them, especially by mid December when many have already migrated. As I get out of our SUV, I begin to giggle with delight to not only seeing but hearing that loud ruckus of high-pitched bugling calls of a massive amount of tundra swans in the backwaters of the river. I am told that because of the abundant food supply and relatively undisturbed resting sites, the Upper Mississippi River is an important staging area for tundra swans during fall migration. This year when we drove to the designated areas, the backwaters were open, making for a better opportunity to get photos since the swans were closer to shore.
I hope we can go one more time now that the cold weather and snow has come, to see how far down they are before they fly south for the winter. It is fun to see the swans dip their heads in the water grabbing roots or bulbs alongside the river to eat. The last swans leave when the river freezes, usually in mid to late December. Like some others in the geese family, if you watch closely you can see the couples on the water, they mate for life. Only if one of a pair of swans dies, the other will find a new mate. This year start a new holiday tradition and take the family to the river to view this amazing sight or on your way back from holiday shopping in Lacrosse, take a detour on the way home toward Brownsville. This has become an increasingly popular fall recreational activity on the Upper Mississippi River and you won’t want to miss it. It’s not too late to see and hear such a sound you won’t soon forget. It will bring a smile on your face, I’m sure, like it does to the many people in Northeast Iowa who witness the migration.