In the 1930s, Trumpeter Swans were almost extinct. Since then, they have been reintroduced throughout their historic range. In 1992, part of the population that now nests in the upper Midwest began migrating to central Arkansas. As many as 300 have returned in recent years.

I drove up through the fog and gloom on the day after Christmas. By the time I arrived at the ponds where the swans hang out, it was raining steadily. The swans are wild birds, but the are obviously very used to humans. A corn feeder ensures that they stay close to the viewing area.

There was a car already there, and the birds were swimming further out in the lake. When that car left, I pulled up about 20 yards from the shore. The swans drifted in and were soon eating the corn and paying very little attention to me.

Among the 103 Trumpeter Swans, I spotted a lone Tundra Swan. It stood on the shore right next to a larger Trumpeter and gave me a great chance to compare the two birds. There were also a few Canada Geese and a single Snow Goose among the swans.

Trumpeter Swan (back) and Tundra Swan (front). You can see the yellow spot on the Tundra’s bill that distinguishes it. It’s hard to tell from any distance, but when the two birds were right next to each other, the Trumpeter was obviously larger with a longer neck.
A Trumpeter Swan. The pink line along the bill is visible in this shot.
Trumpeter Swans

After about half an hour, I drove to the second of the three ponds where the birds are seen. There were 56 more Trumpeters there. At the third lake, some of the 14 birds irds were swimming right next to the shore. There was also a large flock of Ring-necked Ducks and some Buffleheads nearby. (See the last clip in the video.)

The rain ended while I was watching the swans, but started again as I drove back toward Conway. I didn’t let that stop me from hiking around the lake at Woolly Hollow State Park. Even there, on a wet and gloomy day, I ran into several other people on the trail.

I spent a couple hours touring antique stores and eating an unexciting lunch at David’s Burgers.

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Christmas Eve

I took off early for Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge. The government was shut down, so I was a bit surprised that I could get in. The place was busier than I’ve ever seen it—I must have passed 10 other cars. What it wasn’t was full of birds. There was very little to be seen. I didn’t stay long.

I headed to Petit Jean State Park and walked the Seven Hollows Trails. There were people here too, but not many. I was on my own most of the time. I also stopped in the campground to look for Brown-headed Nuthatches. I saw a few, along with a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers.

Turtle rocks
Natural bridge

The family came over to Mom’s for the Christmas Eve Junk Food Extravaganza. Beth was out from Florida (and staying with Peggy). Elizabeth brought here current boyfriend. Jacob, who is currently working at motorcycle repair in Bowling Green, Kentucky, was there, as were Casey and Katherine, also from Florida. Angela now lives and works in Fayetteville. She stopped by for a little while.

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Wichita Illuminations

We arrived just after dark. We had to follow a long line of cars all the way around the gardens to find a spot to park. It was crowded from the start, but things just kept getting worse and worse the longer we stayed. By the time we left an hour and a half later, it was hard to move. In places, we were packed into crowds so dense we were simply stopped. In one place, a woman with a baby carriage kept smashing it into the back of my foot in an attempt to bulldoze her way through the crowd. I finally turned and stared at her. She said, “We’re all in the same boat, friend.” Maybe, but the rest of us were’t being jerks about it. I just started placing my foot in front of her wheel so she couldn’t move.

On our way to Arkansas for Christmas, we spent a night in Wichita. As soon as we checked into our hotel, I got on line and bought tickets for the light show at the botanical gardens. I should have gotten a hint of what to expect when I saw the notice that read “Because of the warm weather, we expect large crowds. Be patient and kind.”

The lights were well done, but it was hard to enjoy them in the throng.

We stopped at Old Chicago Pizza on the way back to the hotel.

Earlier in the day, as we drove through WaKeeney, Kansas, we wrote a limerick in honor of the stiff wind. The next day, we wrote a second one in honor of the woman who cleaned the gas station bathrooms we were forced to use.

There was a young lass from WaKeeney

Who decided to wear a bikini

The Kansas wind rose

And parts of her froze

Soon the bikini was no more to be seeny

There was a short girl from Checotah

Whose john cleaning skills we took note of

She wiped scum off the wall

High as she was tall

And considered that she’d done her quota

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Columbus Zoo

We spent a leisurely Monday in Columbus. Nate and I wandered along the Olentangy River for a couple hours in the morning, talking and looking at birds. For lunch, we went to Schmidt’s German Restaurant, which Sally and I discovered back in January. And then we went to the Columbus Zoo. Our plan was to wander around looking at animals in the daylight for a couple hours, then stick around for the lights after dark.

The plan basically worked, except that there were very few animals to see, so most of our time was spend wandering through an empty zoo. The lights, when the came on, were impressive. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Chocolate Cafe and had grilled cheese and dessert. Nate and Karen came to our room for a little while to watch the second half of Santa Claus 2, a truly terrible movie.

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