Environment Wildlife Diary
Wildlife Dairy: 2008 (Swans)

Christine Hardisty sends the following about the wildlife at Westleaze Swindon

Throughout 2008: Swans

RSPB Website: Mute Swans

In 2007 the pair of adult mute swans who live on the canal had a tough year. Their first nest was somehow lost and though they built a second nest, the site seemed quite dark and dank. But the female persisted and roosted right through the miserable wet weather to hatch 3 cygnets in mid July. So it was a late brood and arrived close to the weekend that brought the floods. Against the odds, they grew and thrived. By March 2008 the adult pair still had one recalcitrant teenager hanging around when they started checking out nest sites and it was the start of April when they nested in earnest and the female (pen) began sitting on the nest.

swan nestThe swans been devoted parents with the male swan (cob) patrolling the canal by the nest to warn any boisterous dogs to keep away and the female swan seeming fixed on the nest. She very occasionally left the nest in the warmest part of a sunny day, hence this photo of seven beautiful eggs on 30 April.

Like true stars with an eye for timing, all seven eggs hatched on a Saturday, the 17 May. It meant that the regular tow-path walkers got a great chance to see the new arrivals over the weekend. There was a lot of excitement and it seemed as if most of the regular walkers had been keeping an eye out and waiting for the happy event.

Cygnets

We think the cygnets waited until the next day before taking the plunge. The first three tumbled into the water with the cob and it was far from a case of "taking to it like ducks to water". At first the three cygnets were constantly swimming up to their father’s middle and trying to climb on to his back. But the cob would move gently out of the way and the cygnets kept on swimming.

Somehow the 3 climbed the steep bank to get back to the nest and later a group of 5 cygnets were out swimming with both parents. By late afternoon, after lots of cajoling all 7 cygnets and both parents were swimming together and the towpath was busy all day with people enjoying the view. You might be able to notice about 12 people on the tow path in the background behind the swans, all taking photographs and admiring the new arrivals.

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A week later you can see how much the cygnets had grown and they seem to have doubled in size again by only 3 weeks. Here they are swimming in the familiar formation with the cob in the lead and the pen at the back of the column. By 22 June, at just over a month old they have changed from cuddly "chicks" and look about the size of a mallard.

Various swansA month later and there are still 7cygents who are recognisably swan-shaped, a bit smaller than there parents and with grey plumage. Not quite ugly ducklings, possibly "gawky teenagers".

Sometime around 20 August we saw only 6 cygnets and another had disappeared before the autumn. By then the cygnets were almost as big as their parents and had started flapping their wings as if to strengthen them and practice flying.

One source suggests that cygnets often leave the family in July and August to join a winter flock of other non-breeding swans (they do not breed until their third year).

A letter published in the Swindon Advertiser coincides with the day we recorded seeing only 6 cygnets.

On Friday, August 22 around 10am, we went to the Kingshill Canal near where we live. We noticed that one of the seven cygnets had a fishing spool in its beak with the line wound around it. It was trying to eat pieces of bread, but was unable to swallow. We phoned the RSPCA rescue helpline, who took all the details, our address and contact number, said they would send someone to help and could they contact us about donations?
We went back in the afternoon, but the cygnet was still in the same condition – we met other concerned people who had also phoned the RSPCA. By 6pm the cygnet seemed worse, so remembering photos of a previous swan rescue operation in the Adver, we phoned John from Swindon and District Animal Haven. He came out within half an hour, caught the swan, took it to the vet who was able to remove the line but had to leave the hook and weight which had gone down to the stomach. Following treatment, John then had the cygnet back with its family by 8pm. The cygnet seems to be recovering well.

It was lovely to see how many people who use the canal were concerned about the cygnet’s welfare, but please fishermen be careful with your kit.
Thank you again John.

November swans

By early November the remaining 5 cygnets were making regular practice flights up and down the canal and by December they look full grown with ever-whitening plumage. As the weather has remained cold through December and into the New Year the canal has frozen solid and the remaining cygnets seem to have flown the nest.

Frozen lake and SwansThis photo shows the canal frozen solid with a sprinkling of snow on top.The adult swans had a wonderful year in 2008, rearing 7 fine cygnets, and many of the folks of Swindon took time out to walk the towpath and appreciate the swans’ growing family.

The swans start the New Year with less family responsibility so hopefully they will soon be thinking about nest building, traditionally from about 14 February!