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story.lead_photo.caption Trumpeter swans gather around a feeder at an unnamed lake in Cleburne County. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

MAGNESS LAKE — You don't have to be a devoted birdwatcher to be dazzled by the seasonal visitors to Magness Lake, 6 miles east of Heber Springs.

Trumpeter swans with wingspans up to 8 feet have been arriving here from the Upper Midwest each November since 1992, before migrating back north around the end of February. Their takeoffs from 30-acre Magness and two nearby unnamed lakes bring to mind a seaplane straining to make it aloft. Once airborne, the birds swoop as gracefully as a glider.

The chance to see a sight as grand as America's largest waterfowl is a genuine treat, more so given the threat to wildlife most everywhere on a planet now packed with nearly 8 billion human beings.

Nearly driven to extinction a century ago, the white-feathered aquatic birds today number an estimated 35,000, mostly in the Upper Midwest and Mountain states. Cleburne County is the farthest south they've been known to travel. As many as 300 are believed to make the yearly flights to and from Central Arkansas. They are best seen from midafternoon to dusk, after returning from feeding elsewhere.

Magness Lake, where the first three wintering trumpeters were spotted 28 years ago, is owned by Pat Eason and her son, Brian. When the swans are present, the Easons allow access to the viewing site with free parking at a bend on Hays Road next to the lake. Just a waterfront wire fence separates fascinated humans from the big birds, who often mingle with one or more duck species.

To enrich the visit, the Easons have posted two signs about the swans. The white adults, known as cobs if male and pens if female, weigh up to 40 pounds. The juveniles, called cygnets, have gray or brown plumage patches on a white background. Adult trumpeters usually mate for life and typically live together with three or four cygnets.

Visitors to the lake are told to keep all pets in their vehicles. Climbing on the fence is forbidden, and only clean shelled corn should be fed to the fowl. They should not be touched, period.

The reason for these cautions is summed up on one of the Easons' signs:

"As with most other wild animals, the greatest threat to their survival is too-close encounters with man. We want them to feel safe and comfortable here. With your help, we can enjoy these majestic wild birds for generations to come."

There are usually more trumpeters at the nearby unnamed lakes. That's thanks to the diligence of owner Verlon Abrams, a former Arkansas commander of the American Legion.

Abrams has placed corn feeders on the shoreline of the 14-acre and 22-acre bodies of water. These allures are centers of activity for the swans. There are no fences, and the swans are somewhat used to photo-snapping humans. Courtesy and common sense should persuade visitors to keep a respectful distance.

While there is now a substantial U.S. population of trumpeters, and more in Canada, their future is evidently not assured. They are threatened by continued loss of habitat, as well as lead poisoning from shotgun pellets, which they evidently mistake for stones and swallow to help with digestion of hard grains. Their uncertain future is all the more reason to visit these Cleburne County lakes sometime before late February.

HOW TO SEE THE SWANS

Magness Lake: Drive east for 4 miles on Arkansas 110 from its intersection just east of Heber Springs with Arkansas 5/25. Turn left on Hayes Road to reach the lake’s parking and viewing area in about a half-mile.

Unnamed lakes: Go about 2 ½ miles east on Arkansas 110 from the Arkansas 5/25 intersection. Turn right on Hiram Road, marked with a small “Swans” sign to reach the first lake in about 4 miles at a narrow lane and the second in another mile.

Information: Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce may have updates on the presence of the trumpeter swans. Visit heber-springs.com or call (501) 362-2444. Also, check arkansas.com, audubon.org and wanderwisdom.com.

Style on 01/07/2020

Print Headline: ARKANSAS SIGHTSEEING: Sojourning swans with wingspans up to 8 feet are natural beauties to behold at lakes in state

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