Close encounters of the swan kind

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30 November 2015

The final day of November was cloudy and cold but, as it wasn’t actually raining, I thought I’d try to fit one more walk in to bolster my woefully inadequate November miles. The forecast was for rain later and I didn’t want to stray too far from home so a quick circuit of the river seemed like a good idea. Of course I might just bump into some black swans but I tried to put that thought from my mind. So far this year cygnet hunts seem to have been doomed to failure. If I didn’t think about them they might appear.

My first sight of the river was at Cobden Bridge with echoes of my old walks to work. In fact this route would turn out to be a revisit of those to and from work haunts. Everything looked just as it always did. The same little boats but no sunrise or sunset to brighten the water. As I crossed I glanced across at Riverside park but I couldn’t see any black swans so I carried on along the side streets towards the slipway. The hollyhocks were long gone and the tree near the slipway no longer had leaves but the branches were a mass of seed balls like a monotone Christmas tree.

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On the slipway a small blue rowing boat was tied up. It was filled with rain water and covered with green algae. Who ever owns it is going to have to do some world class bailing before they can go anywhere. The fancy moorings beside the Millennium Flats were almost empty and I wondered where all the other boats had gone. It’s hardly the weather to go sailing. Perhaps the owners have all gone to warmer climes for the winter.

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It was good to know this walk wasn’t ending with a desk and a headset as I turned onto Horseshoe Bridge. The slope leading down to the boardwalk was a mass of red pyracantha berries, a cheery sight on a dull day. There were bright splashes of yellow along the boardwalk too, a wild marigold with half its petals missing,  a couple of ragwort flowers and a single bedraggled hawkweed. What a contrast to spring and summer when the grassy railway fence was a mass of colour.

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Long before I got to the big stones on the corner I could see swans gathered, along with gulls and a few ducks. When I reached them I was surprised to see just one of this year’s cygnets. The swans here had four as far as I could tell, so what had happened to the other three? There were so few cygnets hatched at this end of the Itchen this year losing any was a terrible shame.

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One large cob was on the path and, as I approached, he turned to face me. Much as I love swans I’m not all that keen to get too up close and personal with them, especially as this one could be trying to protect the surviving cygnet. He started towards me, so close I could have reached out and stroked those snowy white feathers. Of course there was no way I was putting my hand in the way of that beak. I skirted around him, crabwise, keeping eye contact at all times. It was a relief to be on the other side of the path, ready to run if need be.

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At this point there was no way I was going to tun my back on my new swan friend, especially as he might not be all up that friendly. He took a few steps towards me and I took a few steps back. It was a dance of daring, which of us was going to break eye contact first? After a while the cob gave up and went back towards the flock on the water. I took one more photo and half turned to walk on.

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My back was almost turned when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. The cob was coming back along the path. My calves tightened, getting ready to run. The cob wasn’t after me though. Some people, a man and a woman I think, we’re heading down the path from the industrial estate and the cob wasn’t happy about it. He waddled right up to the path, hissing and I heard a small shriek from the woman and through the wire fence I saw them retreating. The cob kept waddling down the path, hissing at them until he completely disappeared along the corner. He’d let me pass, perhaps because he recognised me from all my previous walks, but he obviously didn’t like the look of this couple.

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Curious, I hung around to see what would happen next. The other swans seemed unconcerned by all the drama and carried on sifting through the water looking for food as if nothing was amiss. A couple of ducks decided to beat a retreat and swam off towards the bridge and there was a flurry of dive bombing bravado from the gulls. Because of the low brick wall and the shrubs I could no longer see the cob and the young couple had disappeared completely. They’d probably decided not to walk along the river after all. It seemed as if the cob was going to stay on the path behind the wall and guard the flock, there was no sign of him coming back. Just as I was about to give up and carry on walking a little white head poked around the corner and two beady eyes looked at me. It was so comical I actually laughed out loud.

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Chuckling to myself I turned and began to walk towards the bridge. There are some things money just can’t buy and that kind of entertainment is one of them, although I’m not sure the couple coming down the path would agree. A little further on I turned back for one last look at the flock. Everything had returned to normal. The cob was still on the path but was paying more attention to the water than anything else. The drama was over, at least until someone else comes along.

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On the land once occupied by the TV studios the diggers were clearing rubble. The studios closed in 2004 and the buildings were demolished in 2008. In the intervening years nature has taken over to some extent and the perimeter was, until recently at least, ringed by mature shrubs, pyracantha, dog rose, hawthorn, buddleia and odd things like the gooseberry bush near the desolate park. Trees have sprouted and matured and all sorts of wildflowers have taken over whatever spaces they could find. With the exception of this stretch along the river the site has tall boards to stop people gawking at the workmen. I can’t help wondering what is going to become of the trees and this path along the river?

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Near the bridge the cotoneaster was full of berries and the saplings on the edge of the bank still had a few leaves rustling in the breeze. At the end of the log pond I turned back to look at the swans but they were just white dots in the distance. Then I turned, walked under the bridge and climbed the steep steps up to the road.

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Up on the bridge it was windy and I thought I felt a few spots of rain in the air. It was a relief to get down onto the embankment. The grass was covered with daisies that haven’t realised it’s nearly winter and the small white boat was still tied up to what’s left of the skeleton ship. The river looked inky dark and the clouds were getting thicker and darker too. It was time to get a move on before before the rain came.

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The wind was getting stronger by the time I reached Chessel Bay but I stopped anyway just in case the black swans were hanging out there. From the viewing platform I could see a few white swans but, with a clear view around most of the bay, I was pretty sure the black swans weren’t there. Even so, I did wander along the trail behind the railway a little way just to be certain. It had always been a long shot and there were no swans as far as I could tell.

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It was obvious this was not going to be the day I saw the black swans but I’d never really expected to anyway. The ramp to the railway bridge was a mass of clematis vitalba showing exactly why it has the common name of old man’s beard but it was so windy I couldn’t get a crisp shot of it no matter how I tried. A look over the railway bridge in each direction showed there were still a few leaves on a few trees, probably because the railway cutting is quite sheltered.

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The rain started to fall when I got to the other side of the bridge but it wasn’t heavy so I stopped for a moment to look at a pile of wet oak leaves gathered at the edge of the cutway. A blackberry, climbing up the end of the bridge wall was flowering and, near the road there were yellow balls of kerria flowers and purple campanula. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought it was May rather than the end of November.

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It might not have been a long walk and, in the end, it wasn’t even a dry one but it more than made up for some slight getting wet and a definite lack of black swans with the sheer entertainment value of my close encounter of the swan kind.

Published by

Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

10 thoughts on “Close encounters of the swan kind”

    1. The swans are always up to something and I love visiting them. As for the flowers, it’s been so warm everything thinks it’s spring. Last night we had the warmest December night on record, in places it was 14 degrees and I went out with no coat.

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