The congregation of sixty swans meeting in the middle of the lake, occasionally diving to find food. Photo by Olga Khodakova.

Morses Pond and the trails of Wellesley are a constant reminder of the endless beauty of nature. In the fast-paced, tumultuous life that many lead, the surrounding natural environment offers a breakaway. The symphony of crackling leaves, singing birds, and sloshing water calm the mind and alleviate the stress of everyday life. 

Avid trail-goers and residents near Morses Pond adore the landscape and keep a careful eye on the habitat, and recently, an unpredictable anomaly occurred. Roughly eighty swans were seen clustered in the middle of the lake, in comparison to the three or four swans who have lived there for many years. 

“I’ve lived in the area for almost 62 years, and I’ve visited this lake many times throughout my life,” said Jamie Sheridan. “I’ve never seen so many swans in one group: such a large congregation of them.”

In fact, numerous local residents have had the same experience with these swans, noting the abnormal behavior of the birds. 

This abnormality has led to many theories about the reason why so many birds appeared this year. Some people believe this flock of swans are actually offspring of the local birds and have returned to visit while migrating. Others have suggested the recent geomagnetic storm affected the migration paths of swans, throwing them off course, accidentally landing at Morses Pond. 

Migration is an integral part of the avian life cycle. According to National Geographic, birds establish general north-south migration routes that offer the best opportunities for rest and refueling. Adult birds use a magnetic compass, or an internal “GPS System”, to direct their way around the earth. The birds innately travel based on the polarities of the planet.

Especially during early spring, or breeding season, birds fly vast distances to find food and often hide from predators. A large majority, however, are partial migrants only moving to bordering land or water. 

“Swans don’t migrate: they stay locally,” said Kenneth Bateman, the high school biology teacher. “If anything, [the swans] will maintain proximity to New England.”

The mute swans, the specific breed of swan that inhabit Wellesley, were imported from Eurasia in the early twentieth century. Typically, in the beginning of April, a pair of mute swans chooses a coastal pond or creek to build a large nest, near plentiful vegetation. Yet, these breeding groups are almost always in pairs, like Wellesley’s original swans. 

“[There aren’t] any specifics on why they are congregating in large numbers, but it is a non-breeding flock,” said Nicole Sweeney, Assistant Director of Outreach and Education at Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife). 

Even if mute swans don’t migrate over expansive regions and lengths, it is likely and possible that Morses Pond acted as a newfound checkpoint full of resources during the swan movement to a neighboring environment. 

“Migration is not a super simple subject,” said Jonathan Davis, ranger at the Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary. “It has a lot of variables to it. It’s not always the same exact path every year.” 

Nonetheless, the question still remains as to why such a large number of these swans has appeared at Morses Pond.

On May 10, strong solar flares ejected from the sun reached Earth, resulting in a geomagnetic storm. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the solar winds affect the outer part of Earth’s magnetic field, which sequentially produces additional magnetic field generations. 

According to Holly Ober, at UCLA Newsroom, scientists have discovered that “birds’ ability to navigate… can be impaired when those magnetic fields are disturbed… [which] can come from… heightened solar activity, such as sunspots and solar flares.”

Seeing as swans may partially migrate based on the magnetic field, which could have been disturbed, is there a correlation? 

“That is a really good question,” said Pam Sowizral, Bird Project Coordinator at Mass Audubon. “Mute swans will congregate in large numbers in the fall… but right now, they should be nesting or raising young.”

According to Birds of North America, “Flocks during nonbreeding season are often more concentrated as a result of severe environmental conditions… Summer and winter flocks in Rhode Island and Massachusetts range in size from 12 to 600+ birds.”

Marj Rines, Wildlife Information Expert at Mass Audubon, weighed in on the seventy swans at Morses Pond.

“The only place I’ve heard of there being over 20 at one time is in the Westport area — Cockeast Pond, Richmond, and Quicksand Pond over the border in Rhode Island,” said Rines. “I certainly wouldn’t rule out the geomagnetic activity as a result.”

Additionally, Mass Wildlife noted similar activity in surrounding towns.

“Our biologists have seen similar concentrations in Westborough and Bridgewater,” said Sweeney. “It may (also) be a sign that their statewide numbers are increasing.”

Therefore, the most logical conclusions for the appearance of these swans is the attraction to a new food source, a change in the movement of birds because of the geomagnetic storm, or a simple stopping point on their way to another location. 

Whatever the reason, nature harbors numerous unexplored phenomena yet to be discovered by biologists and environmental scientists. The presence of swans provides residents with an opportunity to witness the splendor of the natural world firsthand, right in their own backyard. 

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