Usually A Symbol of Grace and Serenity, Trumpeter Swans Can Also Be Fiercely Protective.
Most people see Trumpeter Swans gracefully swimming in the calm waters of Flat Creek, the Snake River or even the Yellowstone River. They are equally graceful in flight. Take-offs and landings can be somewhat chaotic, but always fun to observe and challenging to photograph. If not in flight, watching Swans mill around and feed is a bit like watching paint dry. After a few hundred shots in various poses, against cattails and over their own reflections, I find myself hoping for “some action”. After preening, or after leaving the water, they’ll usually stretch their wings to even out their feathers. During the winter months, many of the wild Trumpeters spend their day in Jackson Hole moving from open water to other open waters—including the aerated pond at Boyle’s Hill. In such tight quarters, it is possible to find Trumpeters displaying uncharacteristically fierce behavior. Perhaps it is simply a matter of protecting their turf—or ice in this case—or possibly one adult getting too close to the Cygnets of another family. All hell can break loose! Feathers can fly and blood is a possibility.
The sequence below was taken with a Nikon D4 using a Tamron 150-600mm lens at Boyle’s Hill. Once I saw the action beginning, I pressed the shutter and recorded around 35 shots over a period of only four or five seconds. During such an event, every Swan in the area will be “honking” and most will be flapping their wings—even if not part of the action.
Once the skirmish is over, the Trumpeters take part in a victory dance. If you’d like to read more about Trumpeter Swans, hear their honking sound, and see a range map, click: Trumpeter Swan, All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Here’s a link to a previous Feature Post at Best of the Tetons. It includes a map and more info on the area: Trumpeter Swans of Boyle’s Hill:
Body and Lens Comments: A Nikon D4 or D4s can take around 90 images in a continuous burst before filling the buffer—and at roughly 10 to 11 frames per second! A Nikon D800 or D810 will begin to fill the buffer at roughly 12 frames and will shoot at only 5 fps in FX mode. (there are options for faster shooting in DX). My D4 came through for me in this case, allowing me to capture all of the action over the entire duration. For this page, I left out about every other image in the sequence, picking the one with the best action or showing the most heads. Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Tamron 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/1600 at f/8, Manual Mode, -1 EV, ISO 220. I was set up in Manual Mode with Auto ISO set as the variable. Other than cropping top and bottom, these are full width captures.
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