Orphan Cygnets – first published 1 August 2014

Sleep had not come easily and, despite being tired during the day, I’d been waking early in the morning. Tuesday 1 August 2014 was no exception. We had an appointment with the undertakers in the afternoon and Commando suggested, rather strongly, that I go out for a walk beforehand.
“It’ll cheer you up,” he said.

1 August 2014

Given the lack of miles this month, Commando’s suggestion that I go for a walk, seemed like a good idea and I knew it would do my mind good too so I set off just after eight into a cool morning. There wasn’t much of a plan, just general wandering and I began by crossing the Big Bridge. A good cover of cloud and the early hour meant it wasn’t too warm, although I had an idea it would heat up once the cloud burned off. Beams of light were already streaming through the clouds and the sky on the other side of the bridge was bright blue.

My feet took me towards the Boardwalk, as if I was walking to work. Thankfully, neither of the red haired men were about and I noticed that the Suki II had disappeared too. Were the two things connected? On the Boardwalk I spotted her a little further along the bay, tied up to one of the other boats, perhaps she’d just been for a little jaunt in the sun.

One adult swan and four young cygnets were paddling in the shallows, the same little family I’d seen by the jetties on the other side of Horseshoe Bridge. Under the boardwalk more swans were preening and I was delighted to see one more cygnet, very young and fluffy, amongst them. Yellow toadflax and blue chicory on the bank kept the smile on my face all the way to Horseshoe Bridge.

Instead of turning towards the office I took the fancy path behind the posh Millennium flats. A vista of blue sky reflected in still water kept me smiling. A fisherman was setting up on the corner by the gate to the jetty and, once I’d passed through the second blue gate, I looked back at him. Below on the water another swan family, this with seven cygnets, were hanging about, probably hopeful of bread. This has certainly been a good year for cygnets.

Instead of crossing Cobden Bridge I kept on going straight along the road that follows the river. There wasn’t really a plan, I just let my feet lead me and my mind wander. The next thing I knew I was on Wessex Lane and it was beginning to get warmer. Time to get back to the river and take advantage of the cool breeze. Turning past St Mary’s Church with a quick glance towards to quiet graveyard, I made for the green bridge at Monks Brook.

The trees provided shade and the air was thick with the scent of Himalayan Balsam. I stopped for a moment to look at the flowers, invasive but beautiful. Bees were buzzing all around them, drawn by the sweet smell and I watched, entranced, as one bee disappeared right inside a flower. I could see him wriggling around collecting pollen through the paper thin body of the flower. Further along the trail Orange Balsam caught my eye, similar to the Himalayan Balsam and also an introduced species, but smaller, brighter and not as invasive.

Before too long I was approaching Mansbridge. The riverbank was lined with early morning fishermen and the odd dog walker. It seemed I wasn’t the only one rising early, although, by this time it was close to ten o’clock. Cars were streaming across the new road bridge and a runner came round the corner. For a second I thought it was Commando. It always seems a shame to me that the big ugly road bridge is so close to the old stone bridge. It makes it hard to get a photo of one without getting a bit of the other but I suppose, without the new road, the old bridge may have crumbled by now so I shouldn’t complain.

As I came towards the bend in the river where the cygnets seem to be stuck, a woman with a pushchair was throwing bread and talking to an older woman. By the time I got to them the older woman was leaving, she said good morning as she passed me. The three cygnets were still there but this time close to the bank drawn by the bread. I stopped to take a picture, feeling a little guilty to be taking advantage of the young woman’s bread throwing.

“There’s a cute little duckling in the reeds over there,” the woman said, making me feel a little better.
“It’s the cygnets I’m interested in,” I told her, “usually they’re too far away for a decent photo but your bread is bringing them close to the bank.”
“They’re lovely aren’t they?” she said, “do they stay here once they’ve grown up?”
“Usually they stay with their parents for at least a year, until their white feathers come in. Once they’re all white it’s hard to tell which are the cygnets and which are the parents though. It’s really unusual to see such young ones alone but I haven’t seen the adults for quite a while.”
“The lady I was speaking to just now thinks someone has taken them away or killed them,” she said, “I guess they are orphans. It’s nice that they stay together though.”

I have to admit I’d suspected as much myself. Swans are very good parents and very loyal partners. They mate for life and, if one of a pair dies, the other will stay in the territory obviously grieving. They will fight ferociously to protect their cygnets and I wonder if this is what happened here. Did the cob and the pen die fighting off a fox or a dog, or did something more sinister happen? I guess I will never know but my heart went out to those orphan cygnets.

It’s lucky they were old enough to fend for themselves and, still being fluffy and cute, they’re getting their share of bread. Next time I walk this way I really must bring some for them, they’ll need all the help they can get if they’re going to make it through the winter. Some people think bread is bad for them but actually fresh bread is perfectly good in small quantities, especially granary bread. Mould is poisonous to them though so it’s important the bread is fresh. Grains and fresh greens are also good swan food but the most important thing is to throw the food onto the water. Swans need to swallow water with their food.

At the other end of the river the black swan was still hanging around with the flock of white ones. The white swans didn’t ’t seem all that impressed to have a dark feathered companion and there was a fair bit of sniping and chasing. For a while I stood watching and, for my troubles, got a lovely shot of a pair of white swans courting on the edge of the group. For all the swans at this end of the Itchen there are no cygnets but I think it’s a little late in the year now. What a pity some of the adults aren’t at the other end of the river where they could look after the poor orphans.

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

2 thoughts on “Orphan Cygnets – first published 1 August 2014”

    1. I’ve just read your post and, like you I am devastated to think someone who deliberately shoot such a beautiful bird. I hope the pen survives and her eggs hatch, although, like you, I think it is doubtful, at least as far as the chicks go.

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