After all the discussion of this question, I felt I had to return to the scene of the crime. So once again I got up in the wee smalls, drove 50 miles and was set up by the pond/lake at 7:00 AM as the sun came up. There was no photographer here ahead of me, but there were swans. I set up my camera and realized that to get a good shot that made the swans a significant element against the fall-leaved background, the swans had to get much closer to me than they were this trip, or then they had been on the last trip. Now I understand the guy's frustration. To get a good shot, the swans had to be close! Even though I was quiet and hid myself from the birds while assembling my equipment on the first trip, he had hopes they would come in closer so he could get that shot.
Although they moved all over the lake during the hour I waited, they never got close enough. And no combination of focal lengths helped me. So I hope he got his picture, allthough I also realize that his tripod would have had to be much lower if he wanted to get bird and background.
The funniest part of my second day was that while I was sitting on the ground behind my low tripod and waiting, half a dozen people stopped, got out of their cars, stood next to me and took photographs. After all the discussion here, I never said a word.