HEBER SPRINGS (AGFC) - More and more trumpeter swans again are enjoying their winter home east of Heber Springs. This year the count is more than 200.
In one of nature's mysteries, the majestic birds have adopted a small oxbow lake near the Little Red River as their winter home. They've been doing it for nearly 20 years now, starting with three birds and growing in numbers each year.
Magness Lake covers only 30 acres, but the swans like it. They don't mind sharing the space with Canada geese, a number of mallards and assorted other ducks, along with a few domestic geese.
The lake and its surrounding area are privately owned, with locked gates. But visitors can easily view the swans from a public road, with parking space available in an S curve of the road.
To reach the swans and Magness Lake, drive east on Arkansas Highway 110 from its intersection with Arkansas highways 5 and 25 just east of Heber Springs. Go 3.9 miles from the intersection to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, marked with a white sign. Turn left on a paved county road. Magness Lake is about a half-mile down this road.
Trumpeters are the largest members of the swan family. They have black bills and noses, with a faint red or salmon-colored line along the edge of their bill. In contrast, the more numerous tundra swans, formally called whistling swans, are smaller and have yellow dots on each side of their bills. Mute swans, not natives of North America but descendants of escapees from zoos and parks, have orange bills with black knobs at the upper base. All of these swans are rare in Arkansas.
Trumpeters normally don't come anywhere near this part of the nation. Sizeable numbers of them live in Alaska and smaller numbers in Wyoming and other Western states. Intensive restocking programs, though, are increasing the numbers of trumpeters in Minnesota and a few other upper Midwest states, and these birds occasionally spend winters in northern Missouri.
Restoration projects have increased the numbers of swans in Minnesota and surrounding states, and occasionally marked swans are in the winter group at Magness Lake. The markers usually are traced to birds from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
There are quite a few young ones at Magness Lake this winter. Many of the swans at Heber Springs are white, the sign of adult swans. Some are a dusky gray-brown, sometimes mottled with white; these are the youngsters. They become pure white when they are fully grown, although the youngsters are nearly as big in body size.
Trumpeter swans aren't easily confused with snow geese, another waterfowl that's predominantly white tipped with black. A trumpeter swan is huge compared to a snow goose. Trumpeters have wingspans of nearly 8 feet and weigh up to 30 pounds; a snow goose has a 4½-foot wingspan and weighs about 6 pounds.
Trumpeter swans were more common in the central and eastern parts of the nation. But it was more than a century ago when they were last recorded in Arkansas before the group discovered Magness Lake. This is the most-southern location of any trumpeter swans that have been discovered in a number of decades. The trumpeters stay around Magness Lake until late February or early March, then they head back to Minnesota.