Saturday 18 April 2015

Swan Song

Day old chicks

Last summer (2014) a pair of young swans settled on the upper reaches of the North Walsham and Dilham canal and raised their very first brood.
From the day the chicks were born and took to the water I have filmed their progress and watched them grow and thrive.
Amusing little characters

Swans are common on most stretches of water and are taken for granted when compared to the more exotic species of wildlife, but these little characters kept me fascinated and amused on my twice weekly visits to the canal.  During those long summer days it was a delight to see them paddle "line astern" between mum and dad.  With butterflies fluttering overhead and dragonflies darting low over the water as they patrolled the tranquil waters between Spa Common and Ebridge lock.

The youngsters grew at an alarming rate in no small thanks to the hoppers of grain and bread left out for them.   In just a few weeks they morphed from fluffy little chicks with enormous feet and two   useless, stubby, wings, into scaled down images of their parents.

By mid July the youngsters had eased into the daily routine of eating, sleeping and preening.
Some nights they returned to the old nest at Bacton Wood which became almost submerged under their combined weight when they all clambered aboard, oblivious of Mum's valiant efforts to maintain the overcrowded nest.

Issued under Creative Commons (author unknown)

As August gave way to September stubby little wings had been replaced with an almost, adult wingspan.  Although still not powerful enough to get the young swans airbourne they frequently practised flying with their feet remaining firmly anchored to the rond.

Summer drifted into Autumn and the youngsters overall grey plumage was showing traces of white as they matured.  The family no longer travelled "line astern" between Mum and Dad, now they would spread out and move as a flock as they patrolled the waterway. 
Courtesey of Roymartinlindman

The family group had become a unit. Demonstrating their ability to defend themselves when
a young Otter working its way along the canal was spotted by one of the cygnets.  The juvenile raised the alarm and the entire family turned and hissed in the direction of the Otter.  The collective show of aggression was enough to deter any would-be predator.  The Otter left a stream of bubbles in its wake as it swiftly retreated downstream.

Young wings were now fully developed and airworthy,  strong enough to lift the young swans into the air.  By the turn of the year the cob began to harass his offspring.  He would chase them, often grabbing their tail feathers.   The cygnets could not understand this show of aggression toward them from the parent who had protected them for all of their short young lives.   Gradually the cygnets detached themselves from their parents and moved a mile or so downstream.

On a cold February morning the cob flew into the Ebridge pound and attacked the youngsters without mercy.  After a  furious period of flapping, splashing and anguished cries.  Wings slapped the surface of the canal and the younsters took to the air and flew off into the mist never to return.    The cycle of life had turned full circle.  On days when I look out across the canal reed beds I wonder where those youngsters are now and how they are coping on their own.  I guess I will never know.

Courtesey Adrian Pingstone.

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