There’s No Place Like Home

It’s true. As much as so many people want to be somewhere else, there is no place like home. Home is where your heart is, where your family is, where your best memories are and where you feel the safest and most comfortable. Home is where you hang your hat, and home for me is Chautauqua Lake. And right now, that is where I want be. I want to see my house, my family, my friends and the lake. I’m homesick. Thank goodness for technology and social networking sites like Facebook for keeping me updated on what is happening back home.

I check Facebook daily and, after I saw a post made by my friend Arlene, I called her. I was in awe of her picture of the tundra swan, which she is letting me use for this article. She told me about all the migratory birds that she’s seeing from her window.

“It is like watching a movie,” she said.

Arlene and her husband, John, live in Fluvanna where the Chadakoin River flows out of the lake. Because of the current in the river, she has open water in front of her house. This open water is what the migratory birds, like the tundra swans, need this time of year. Tundra swans are one of the most beautiful birds on the planet, in my opinion. I’ve only seen a couple on the lake in all the years I’ve lived there, but this year, Arlene told me there are hundreds.

Tundra swans live a very interesting life. Some travel nearly 4,000 miles on their migration from the tundras of North America, where they breed in the summer, to their East Coast wintering grounds in North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay area. Some of the swans do fly to the West Coast.

During the winter, the birds stay in flocks where they usually sleep afloat. When they are ready to breed, they will sleep on land with an open eye watching for predators. The breeding pairs are solitary and territorial. The swans can be nasty if they are bothered or feel threatened. Nests are made of sticks near a body of water, and the female usually lays four eggs, which take 32 days to hatch. It was believed Tundra swans mated for life. New research shows they pair up for a year before breeding. An early freeze or a late spring can wreak havoc with their reproduction, but despite this, Tundras enjoy a stable population and are actually hunted in some areas. (http://animals.nationalgeographic)

Tundras are sometimes called “whistling swans.” They earned this nickname because of the way they take flight. When these strong, fast swimmers want to take to the air, they “run,” beating their wings on the surface of the water. This rhythmic sound resembles whistling. (http://animals.nationalgeographic)

After checking the website, I found out that Tundras and Trumpeter swans are the only two swan species native to North America and that, according to, they are very difficult to tell apart. Until recently, there were very few places the two were together, but thanks to a successful program in the Great Lakes Region, the breeding population of the Trumpeter has increased. Both birds have snow-white feathers and black beaks. Trumpeters are larger birds, move more slowly with their short legs and have a gentle “honk,” like a single toot on a trumpet, generally repeated in a series of two to three notes. Tundras, on the other hand, are a bit smaller, but much more graceful and agile, almost appearing to “prance.” They have a bugling call and crane-like clucking. It doesn’t matter to me I just want to see them.

Swans on Chautauqua what a magnificent sight. It’s only in my head right now, but soon that will change. I booked my flight back to New York a few days ago. I’ll be able to watch “the movie” for myself, and I’m hoping they will still be there when I return. I know there is no place like home and despite the ice, snow and cold, deep in your heart, I’m sure most of you agree. Enjoy the day and I hope to see you soon on the trails!

Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit or