Restless swans and autumn leaves

3 October 2017

The final part of our walk took us along the river, the one place we couldn’t possibly get lost. Today the water was mirror smooth, reflecting the beautiful blue sky above and the trees on the far bank. A spider was busily wrapping up something he’d caught in his web strung between the plants on the bank. He reminded me of the start of our walk, all spiders and butterflies.

This might be a walk we take often but it’s never boring. There always seems to be something new to see here. Today the liquidamber trees were putting on a wonderful show with ombré leaves changing from red to green. Some show signs of their struggle with the wind and there are broken branches here and there but en mass they are a splendid sight.

The sun was so bright and the sky so blue it was hard to believe it was October. It felt more like midsummer. My coat had long since been taken off and tied around my waist and I was regretting the choice of socks and boots over walking sandals. The good weather had drawn people into the park and we shared the path with a steady stream of dog walkers, fishermen and mothers with pushchairs.

As we came to the riverbend CJ spotted thousands of tiny fish in the clear water. He stopped to take photographs, although I was sceptical that he’d capture anything much. Even so I took a shot myself and was surprised to find I could see the fish in it, even without them darting about. We walked on discussing whether these would one day be fish big enough to make the fishermen proud or if they were tiny minnows that would be food for the big fish.

The trees on this part of the river are slowly turning golden yellow, their colours mirrored in the water. A few fallen leaves floated alongside us as we walked. There were swans here too, three of them, perhaps the orphan cygnets from a few years back. As we walked towards them one clambered clumsily onto the path.

Back in July we saw a swan on the path further down the river. It had caused quite a stir with walkers and cyclists having to walk on the grass to get round it. CJ had got a little too close and been hissed at. Then the day was very hot and I worried about the poor angry bird’s feet on the boiling path. This swan headed straight for the grass, lumbering off amongst the fallen leaves. A swan on water is a graceful thing, on land it’s another matter altogether. They seem so clumsy, as if those huge bodies are far too cumbersome for their thin legs.

The other two swans looked on. They were soon joined by a white duck. A couple sitting on a bench nearby watched nervously as the swan waddled towards them. We stood at a safe distance wondering what would happen next.

The swan passed behind the seated people and wandered quite a long way across the grassy bank as if it was enjoying a little ungainly stroll. After a while the other two swans climbed out of the river too. It seemed to take a lot of effort. Side by side they also headed for the grass. It was too much for the people on the bench. They got up and walked off. We held our ground, waiting to see what the swans were up to.

In the end it came to nothing much. Ther was a bit of posturing, wings and necks stretched, some circling around and a few hisses at passers by. Luckily they seemed to ignore us and, after last time CJ kept at a sensible distance. After a few minutes all three swans got back into the river with a great deal of splashing and we carried on with our walk.

We hadn’t got very far when there was a terrific splashing and a womping of wings as the three swans took off on a short flight. They’d barely got airborne before they crash landed back into the river. All the climbing and flying seemed a lot of effort for nothing.

We walked past Woodmill and behind the reedbeds talking about the restless swans. Neither of us could work out why they decided to climb onto the bank and wander about on the grass. Whatever the reason, it is a rare sight and we were both glad to have been in the right place at the right time to see it. Even more glad to have survived to tell the tale.

When we passed the oak tree near the reedbeds we knew we were on the home stretch. Ahead there were swans and gulls on the jetty and a plane coming in to land overhead. We watched as it circled round, getting lower and lower until it looked as if it would surely crash into the trees.

Most of the swans hanging around the jetty were the black swan cygnets but, amongst them we noticed a mute swan with an almost fully grown cygnet. Throughout the spring and summer we have looked for cygnets on the river here and seen none. We’d even begun to wonder if the prolific breeding of the black swans had somehow put the mute swans off laying eggs of their own. As we stood watching a whole group of mute swans and cygnets came swimming up river towards us. Where they have been hiding is a mystery but I’m glad to see there were some cygnets after all, even if we missed them when they were young and fluffy.

So our walk, that started with spiders and butterflies, took us in circles on untried paths and tricked us when we least expected it, ended with swans and cygnets. All in all I’d call that a good day.

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

4 thoughts on “Restless swans and autumn leaves”

    1. I’m not sure if swans eat insects or worms. Their diet seems to be mostly weeds and things people throw to them. They also need water to be able to swallow so they can’t eat on land. It’s very unusual to see them walking around on the land like this, although they do stand on the riverbank sometimes. I really didn’t expect the fish shot to work. Sometimes it’s worth a try though, even when it seems like it’s hopeless.

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