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Signs of Spring Everywhere Update: April 12, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Swans on the Move!!
Both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are heading north. Lucky people throughout the midwestern states and central provinces have been outside at the right moment, right when a flock wings overhead. Their haunting cries, beautiful plumage, and interesting life history make swans among the most beloved of migrants. They begin their journey on their wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast, and travel all the way to Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, where they will build their nests. Tundra Swans spend HALF of their lifetime migrating back and forth between their wintering and summering grounds!

Listen to the Trumpeter Swan
Wait for download; 143 K file.
Recording Courtesy of
Lang Elliott

Listen to the
Tundra Swan

Wait for download; 126 K file.
Recording Courtesy of
Lang Elliott

Tundra Swans begin migration with their lowest body weight of the year, following the long winter. The places where they rest during their journey, called "staging areas," are critical to their health and their ability to reproduce. Swans stay at their staging areas for two to three weeks at a time while fattening up. They will make their nests in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, where days are long but the season is short, and their babies will have a lot of growing to do in the short time before they head south again.

Challenge Question # 13
"To ensure a species' survival, why is it necessary to protect the breeding grounds, the wintering grounds, AND important staging areas? Explain."

(To respond to this Challenge Question, see below.)

Keeping Track

Dr. Scott Petrie and swan

Swans are secretive and wary on their nesting grounds, and they all look pretty much the same when they are in a group, so individuals are usually hard to keep track of. But Dr. Scott Petrie at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario is keeping track of some individuals that he marked with satellite transmitters. Dr. Petrie captures some swans by firing rocket nets over them in wetlands and in flooded fields. Once captured, he weighs, measures, and bands each swan and figures out what sex it is. Four adult females were equipped with satellite transmitters during the spring of 1998, while three were captured and outfitted in the fall of 1998. These transmitters eventually fall off, get damaged, or lose their battery charge. For 1999, Dr. Petrie decided to use neck collar-attached 30 g transmitters in hope that he would be able to track the bird longer. Five birds were captured in March 1999 and they have already begun their journey north.

According to Swan Satellite Tracking Website, "The way that it works is quite remarkable. There are 3 satellites that continuously orbit the globe and detect the locations of transmitters. The satellites orbit at 850 km above the Earth?s surface and they can detect the presence of transmitters across a 5000 km path each time they pass. When the satellite detects the frequency from a particular transmitter, it picks it up from several locations as it passes. This information is translated into a latitude and a longitude, relayed to a ground station in the United States, and then directed to Dr. Petrie?s computer via e-mail within 3-4 hours of the satellite pass. The beauty of this technology is that no matter where the satellite-transmitter affixed swans go in the world, he will know where they are without leaving his office!"

Some people worry that transmitters bother birds, or make them less likely to survive. But there are cases where birds would have died without a radio or satellite transmitters.

Challenge Question # 14
"Name at least one situation when a transmitter can really save a bird's life."

(To respond to this challenge question, see below.)

Sir Syd and Roast
During the coming weeks, Journey North will help students keep track of two of these swans, a male named Roast and a female named Sir Syd. Both birds winter on the Atlantic coast, and were captured on their staging grounds near Long Point, Ontario, which juts out into Lake Erie.

Click on photo or name to see Roast or Sir Syd's migration map
Photos and data courtesy of
Bird Studies Canada and
The Long Point Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Fund


Sex: Male
Transmitter No. 20113
Weight: 7400 gms.

Capture Date: 18 March 1999

Sir Syd

Sex: Female
Transmitter No. 20179
Weight: 5150 gms.
Capture Date: 12 March 1999

Challenge Question # 15
"Calculate Roast and Sir Syd's weights in pounds. How many math books would balance one of them?"

Challenge Question # 16
"Female swans lay eggs, which uses up valuable protein and fat, and then females incubate the eggs, which takes a lot of calories. Yet males are much larger. Why do you think males are larger than females?"

(To respond to these questions, see below.)

Diary of a Swan

Sir Syd's Diary

  • 12 March: Sir Syd was captured on March 12th, 1999.
  • 19 March: Between the 16th and the 19th of March, Sir Syd moved 100 km west to Dutton, ON.
  • 22 March: Between the 19th and 22nd (most likely on the 21st), Sir Syd moved 225 km northwest to the east shore of Saginaw Bay in Michigan.25 March: Sir Syd is still located on the east shore of Saginaw Bay in Michigan.
  • 28 March: Between the 26th and 28th of March, Sir Syd moved 450 km west. She is located 50 km west of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
  • 4 April: Between the 29th of March and the 4th of April, Sir Syd moved 650 km northwest. She is located 25 km west of Wheaton, Minnesota.

Roast's Diary

  • 18 March: Roast was captured on the Sinclair-Campbell Ducks Unlimited Property, west of Port Rowan, ON on the 18th of March, 1999.
  • 21 March: Between the 18th and 21st of March, Roast moved 80 km west to the agricultural fields near St. Thomas, ON.
  • 25 March: Roast was still located in the St. Thomas, Ontario area.
  • 28 March: Between the 26th and 28th of March, Roast moved 550 km northwest. She is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan near Algoma, Wisconsin.
  • 31 March: Sometime between the 29th and 30th of March, Roast moved 800 km northwest to a location near Fargo, North Dakota.
  • 3 April Between the 1st and 2nd of April, Roast moved 50 km northwest to a spot near Hunter, North Dakota.

Challenge Question # 17:

"Calculate the distance that Sir Syd or Roast has flown since the satellite transmitter was put on."

Discussion of Challenge Question #11

"After a whale hunt, what animals might try to share in the feast?"
Third graders Eliza, Ardenia, Jesse, and Cameron figured it this way: "The polar bear: we read that it can smell a dead whale 20 miles away; wolverines, and Artic fox. We also think that the sled dogs will get some of the meat to share." Other animals that eat carrion and would probably turn up at the whale carcass include gulls, crows, ravens, and even Bald Eagles!

Discussion of Challenge Question #12
We asked, "How fast does an earthworm crawl?" A worm crawls by stretching the front part of its body and pushing through the soil, then pulling the back end up. A worm has two kinds of muscles that it uses for crawling. "Circular muscles" go around the body, letting the body shrink or spread out. "Longitudinal muscles" run the length of the body and can shorten or lengthen the worm. Special bristles called "setae" hold the worm in place so it doesn't slip. If a classroom does an experiment to find out a worm's speed, send us your results!

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question
Please respond to only one question in each e-mail message.
1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 13, #14,# 15,#16, OR #17
3. In the body of your message, answer the question.

The Next Signs of Spring Update Will be Posted on April 26, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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