For one thing, there's the trumpet-like call that gave them their name.
For another, they're the biggest birds in North America, weighing in at as much as 32 pounds. They're about 4 feet tall with a wing span that can reach 8 feet.
Trumpeters start escaping from the Canadian winter in November and December, heading south to the Northwest. Many stay in Washington until March, so now is a good time to view and photograph them.
Snohomish and Skagit counties are prime territory for trumpeters, which like to rest and feed here, particularly in farm fields to the west of I-5.
A road trip to look at swans is a great weekend family activity, especially on a sunny day. The areas that swans enjoy -- farm fields along country roads, are also great areas for a bike ride, either short or long.
But one caveat -- trumpeters are a protected species, which means it's illegal to harass them. So here are some trumpeter swan dos and don'ts:
Stay in your car if you can. Cars generally don't excite trumpeters and they make a good blind for photographers. A sack of beans from the supermarket can help steady your camera lens on the car window frame.
Don't slam the door if you must leave your car. Close doors quietly and move slowly.
Don't trespass. Park your car in a safe spot off the road and stay off farm fields.
Bring binoculars or bring a camera with the biggest telephoto lens you can find. For the best photos, bring a tripod.
Leave your pets at home or in the car. The last thing you want to see or hear is your barking dog chasing a flock of trumpeters. It's illegal and the stress can lead to disease or increased deaths, according to the Trumpeter Swan Society.
Be patient. To get the best photos, all you really have to do is wait. If you find a farm field with a bunch of swans or snow geese, odds are that it won't be too long before a group leaves or flies in, so you can get some nice shots of these graceful waterfowl in the air.
Plan your photos. You can get some nice photos by finding swans in fields with a clear background view of the Cascade or Olympic ranges, then waiting for them to fly in or out.
Where are the best places?
The farm fields around Silvana and south and north of Stanwood are my favorites because they're close. That's where, on clear days, I've found views of the Cascades for a nice background.
The Trumpeter Swan Society recommends:
Fir Island northwest of Conway in Skagit County. Also check around La Conner.
Farms in the Skagit Valley north of Highway 20. Traveling east along Cook Road toward Sedro Woolley.
Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, 10441 Bayview-Edison Road, Mount Vernon. The trails and parking lot are always open and free. Check www.padillabay.gov for programs and exhibit hours.
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