Keep on running – number 11, my swan family

Jules Cox

Jules Cox

I have already posted about the variety of birds I am privileged to see down by the water. The one I didn’t mention was the kingfisher. Quite easily my favourite bird with its electric blue wing feathers and russet red breast. I haven’t seen one in a little while, but there are, I believe, two pairs on my stretch of river and I’ve been very lucky with the sightings I have had. These include rounding a bend and spotting the kingfisher sitting on a branch a matter of just a few feet away. I stopped, of course (spying a kingfisher has to be more important than running!), and admired his beauty both sitting there and as he flew away. I have seen them fleetingly as they soar past just above water level, from a distance sat in a tree and a number of times really quite close up. I get a real buzz from see a kingfisher, their beauty with elusiveness combines to make them a rare and impressive sight. I’ve included a picture here, but have never seen a photo that is as beautiful as they are in the flesh (or should I say feather…).

But this post is not about kingfishers, it is about another privilege of being able to run the same length of river on a regular basis and that is about seeing changes and growth. This happens in the land and the water, it is noticeable how the water levels change after a significant rainfall. What is also amazing is to watch the wildlife change, and this year I have had the good fortune to follow the trail of a swan family. To begin with, of course, they were not a family, but two adult swans making preparations. They chose the site for their nest and started building. The communication between them was clear, nodding their elegant heads, pausing to watch what the other was doing, it was a real team effort. The next day I past the same spot and they were nowhere to be seen. Their spot was clear of nest paraphernalia but there was no sign of a struggle. I continued on my run and to my delight there they were, half a mile up river with what they clearly considered to be a much better spot.

Mrs Swan incubating her eggs

Mrs Swan incubating her eggs

And I am sure they were right, it was a little bit more off the beaten track and further back from the water itself, a safer and more sheltered home. They continued to work building their nest and once the shell was complete, feathered it with their own down. Then came the long period of incubating the eggs. Every day I checked in and often saw the female on the next with her head under her wing. The male was never far away and would I’m sure have taken his turn minding those precious eggs.

Much as I enjoy my runs and seeing the swans and marvelling at their progress, I wanted to share it with others. So my husband and I brought my parents over to the river for an afternoon walk. This was late May and it was pleasant weather as we meandered along the route I am used to rushing by. We came to the spot where the swans were nesting and what a treat we were given.

The newest cygnet

The newest cygnet

The female was sitting on the nest and as we appeared she stood up. Under her were two tiny fluffy bundles twitching and fidgeting to get comfortable. They could be no more than a day old. We looked closer and the most amazing sight to be seen, there was a third cygnet fighting its way out of its egg! You can’t get a newer cygnet than that! What a thrill, watching pure wildlife as it came into the big wide world. It still had egg shell on its bottom as Mum sat down to protect her growing brood. We saw that there were two more eggs, unhatched but one certainly with a hole being made.

Returning the next fews days on my runs the family stayed firmly hidden in the safety of Mum’s keeping. It was clear that there was fidgeting going on below but the cygnets stayed out of sight. Then came the day when I looked to the nest and it was empty! No Mum Swan, no Dad Swan and no babies – plenty of evidence of recent habitation in the form of flattened grass and lots and lots of feathers, but no Swan family. Having never followed a new swan family before, I had no idea if this was normal or if something sinister had happened. Thankfully there was no evidence of this, despite the amount of feathers there was no traces of blood so I remained hopeful. I quickened my pace and continued on my run.

I kept a keen eye open hoping they had just moved. Some half a mile or so back upstream and hiding behind some reeds I spied Mum and Dad Swan. No cygnets mind, but they could well be snuggling under Mum or Dad, at least this is what I wanted to be the case. I stopped for a closer look and received a grumpy hiss from Mum. I took that as a good sign, protecting her young.

Another one about to appear...

Another one about to appear…

Another day, another run and this time bingo! There were Mum and Dad Swan and their cygnets on the water. I was delighted but….wait, there are only two cygnets. In the nest we saw two fluffy balls, one coming out of the shell and two unbroken shells. That makes five. To lose three is such a short period of time is not good, even in the cruelty that can be nature. I trundled on, sad for the three who didn’t make it. As if to confirm how cruel nature could be I was pulled out of my reverie by some distressed tweeting  and twittering. There on the wooden fence was a magpie and under it’s claws, pinned to the fence, was a poor robin, wing splayed and totally helpless. The magpie was pecking at its head. The poor robin had no chance. Should I intervene? The thought was only fleeting as there would be no point. At best I would end up with a badly injured robin and what could I do for it then? I moved on with an even heavier heart leaving the poor robin to its grizzly fate.

Rounding the corner I am pleased to say that the news turned out to be not so bad. On my return leg, there again were Mr and Mrs Swan, this time with not 2, not even 3 but 4 cygnets! I saw a cute grey fluffy head poking out of Dad’s wing feathers. They must have been hiding there all along. Did that mean number 5 had survived too?

The three young cygnets

The three young cygnets

Sadly it seems not, I saw the four cygnets another few times until one day there were only three. I know this is why they have more eggs than they can cope with but it still leaves me a little sad. As the months have passed I am pleased to say that these three fluffy cute cygnets are all doing well and turning into fine young swans. They have lost their fluffiness and this has been replaced by a fine elegance. Their chest feathers and under their wings are turning white yet they still stay together as a family. It has been a true privilege and joy to follow this little family and I hope to continue to see them as summer passes and autumn steps in.

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