It always amazes me how I can live in an area for so long and be completely unaware of some fascinating image subjects. Thanks to Ray Miller, a local Photography Life reader, I had the chance to photograph a small group of Tundra Swans in their winter migration home on the Niagara River in Ontario.
Ray has been photographing these birds for a couple of years during their annual migration and it was fantastic to have him as my guide and as an information resource. According to Ray, the birds that are found in our area are only here for a couple of months (January and February) and by early March they have started their northern migration. The local population tends to congregate on a very small stretch of the Niagara River about 3 to 5 miles long (4.8 – 8 km), a few miles west of the town of Fort Erie, Ontario.
Tundra Swans are large, majestic birds with distinctive black bills, legs and feet. They are difficult to distinguish from Trumpeter Swans which have almost identical colouring. The most recognizable feature between the two species is the yellow mark just in front of the Tundra Swan’s eye.
These birds breed in the high Arctic during the summer months and as their name suggests live on the tundra of the far north. They migrate southward a considerable distance, some as far as the Carolinas on the east coast, and to California and northern Mexico on the west coast. They are large birds with wingspans reaching 5 ½ feet (168cm) and can weigh over 23 pounds (10.5 kg).
The easiest way to get to this section of the Niagara River to photograph these birds is to take the QEW Niagara to the Netherby Road exit, then proceed east on Netherby Road until it ends at the Niagara Parkway. Once you arrive at the Niagara Parkway I’d recommend that you turn right and drive towards Fort Erie. You can then watch for the Tundra Swans along the shores of the Niagara River which will be on your left hand side as you drive towards Fort Erie.
There are a number of designated parking areas along the Niagara Parkway, as well as a series of small service roads where you can park. I went out one day with Ray, then alone the following day and found the swans between Service Roads 4 and 9.
As always, drive carefully as there are very few guardrails between the Niagara Parkway and the Niagara River!
To see some additional images of Tundra Swans in flight click on the YouTube video.
Article and images Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent.