It is a positively sprung sunny day, though I admit I have tempered my usually smart walking pace to something less than a march for the occasion of taking it all in.
Late-ish afternoon and it’s good light for photography. Of course I’ve left my camera at home but perhaps this is a good thing: it made me appreciate that I don’t need a camera to capture it. Not that I have a notebook either, but I do have eyes and a good memory for visuals, so I slow my pace even further and search for an analogy for the way the light was at just the right angle or level or brightness or whatever it was to draw out hues from each component in the vista so clear and defined that I could imagine I was seeing the essence of each object’s colour, distilled right down the way you can with scent to make perfume. Maybe that sounds a bit overwrought. It wasn’t so much that everything was very bright, but more there. I wear glasses but my sight’s not that bad without them, so what it reminded me of most was the difference I notice when I’ve been concentrating on something with them off, only to find everything so much easier to look at when I put them on again.
Swanpool is an easily accessible, if small, nature reserve in Falmouth. The road runs right along the eastern bank of the pond, and a paved footpath encircles it making it a popular family and dog walking destination. I pass a man with an oversized camera. I’m not imagining it about the light then. A pair of mallards make a mess of crash landing into the pool to the right.
I give the crazy golf a wide berth and head for the quieter side of the lake, away from the road. Scrubby trees and undergrowth shelter this side, and I can see a white shape conspicuously uncamouflaged where stems and trunks meet water. A swan is sitting on an island of sticks that looks big and dense enough to float off like a raft. I suspect it’s built into the mud at the pool’s bank to prevent just that from happening. I peer from a distance, not wanting to disturb it, but needn’t have worried as I meet a man with a duck-bread bag just round the corner, who’s clearly just finished pelting it with bits of stale sliced white. He points the nested bird out to me, explaining how he’s been trying to tempt it with some bread but it wouldn’t move.
The swans are the pool’s namesake, but today there are mostly smaller water fowl around: mallards, coots, tufted ducks, plus plenty of seagulls floating along and masquerading quite well as paler coloured ducks until a disagreement provokes an outburst of unmistakable screeching.
Reaching the top end of the lake I spot another swan in the water below me, at the fringe edge of the reeds. It’s alternately wiggling its bum about and then sticking its head under the water. I can’t see its feet but it’s clearly stampling about in the shallows and stirring up whatever it is it likes to eat from the bottom. A man in a faded black hoodie passes by, stopping to observe the swan, before joining a couple of other people at the water’s edge. They’re talking about the swans: a pair, regular to this reserve by the sounds of things. This one’s the female, stocking up on protein ahead of a lengthy incubation. The one on the nest is her husband (swans mate for life), on egg-sitting duty until Mrs has finished lunch.
Faded Hoodie Man seems to be some sort of ranger or research biologist, monitoring the pair. Apparently there was one egg there on Saturday so he was on his way to check and see if another had appeared: if it had he’d know the first egg had been laid Friday, if not, it had only just been laid when he first recorded it. He’s expecting up to eight eggs to be laid every other day over a period of fifteen days, incubating for up to forty days. The man describes to the others how the female will sit tight and will not leave the nest unless it’s a very warm day, when ‘she’ll pop out for a quick bite (I imagine her getting a takeaway or fish and chips wrapped in newspaper) then nip right back’. I make a mental note to look up exactly what it is swans eat when I get home. (Mainly aquatic vegetation, plus molluscs, small fish, worms – maybe the duck-bread counts as a takeaway.)
I moved when it started to get colder. I wanted to stay and watch the light on the reeds for a bit longer. You could see why this would be considered the ‘golden hour’: their stems reflected the lowering sunlight in such a way that it seemed to be emanating out from the reeds themselves. It’s a good job I didn’t have the camera, really, otherwise I’d have been tempted to spend the whole time trying to capture it all for posterity. Sometimes it’s so easy to rely on photographs for visual memories that we spend more time looking at the landscape through the viewfinder rather than appreciating the full panorama while we are immersed in it. And then you get home and upload thirty seven photos of sunlit reeds against a blue pond that look entirely indistinguishable from each other, the lot of them unremarkable to someone who was not present to witness the original.
Swanpool is a among eleven important brackish water reserves in the UK. It is protected by its status as a Nature Reserve and as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Not all beautiful or important places in this country are as well protected.
Find out more about the RSPB’s Saving Special Places campaign, which is aiming for a reform in planning law which would enable a better balance between development and conservation in the UK.
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I returned regularly to Swanpool during 2012 to check on the progress of the nesting swans and the resultant hatchings. The posts are archived in the Swanpool Swans (click for link) section of the Cornwall category if you would like to find out how the pair fared on their nest and what happened next.