Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

Tundra Swan Phenomenon

On the second day of Christmas our gift was 562 Tundra Swans that swirled in and took refuge along the west shore of Mono Lake. On December 27 at around 10:00 am holiday traffic marched past on 395, but no one took notice of the large, snow-like mounds in the water. Along a pullout between the brine shrimp plant and the Tioga Lodge you could see a bevy of Tundra Swans stretched out along the shoreline and hear their high-pitched hooting and yodeling. In the spotting scope I carefully counted 562. Tundra Swans occasionally stray into the Mono Basin this time of year but never in such numbers. A rare Mono Lake event to end the year!

Tundra Swans at Mono Lake. Photo by Bartshe Miller.
Tundra Swans at Mono Lake. Photo by Bartshe Miller.


  1. Saw 25-30 Tundra Swans on Lower Twin Lake (Bridgeport) on 27 December. Guess they moved on south.

  2. A message from Matt Banta …

    Glad I wasn’t the only ones to see the swans! I watched the whole event, but it wasn’t just the 500 something swans you guys witnessed. I estimate about 5000 maybe 10,000 swans spent the night of the 26th on Mono.

    I went out to DeChambeau before sunup on the 27th. The round pond had about 200 on it, and when they flew … the rumble began! Group after group started to get up off various portions of the lake. Each group would form a V, then would disappear. All I could hear all morning was swans flying off the lake.

    The old man says we use to get migrations of swans like this. All I can remember is you see them just flying over at unreal altitudes. It was apparent they wouldn’t stay long with the lack of available food for waterfowl in the basin right now. Every bunch I saw were sleeping, resting up for the rest of the migration. Just goes to show how important Mono is for migratory birds.