Swan Baby Gone

February 15th 2013 

The first daffodils are showing in the cemetery. Early catkins strand dull branches.

The first cherry blossoms are spreading a veil of palest pink on trees in gardens and hedgerows. Velveteen buds where last week, nothing.  Five o’clock and the sun’s still not drifted down behind the headland. An evening walk becomes late afternoon again. Families and students on the beach after school and uni.

Two swans alone on Swanpool. I scan the lake for any sign of the grown-up cygnet. She’s nowhere to be seen.

December 8th 2012

Picking my footholds in the shadows of the rockpools at dusk, I hear the unmistakable sound of swan wings overhead. I looked up to see two swan silhouettes against the deepening blue of the sky, heading east.

January 19th 2013

Three swans still at the south end of Swanpool, the young one now almost indistinguishable from her parents save for a few dull feathers in her white plumage, and her brick pink bill.

January 20th

A noise was coming from the pool as I headed over from Swanpool Beach. Looking towards the water I could see a narrow wake as though a large bird were landing on the water, except that it didn’t stop. As I rounded the corner I could see a remote controlled model speed boat zipping across the surface at the southern end of the pool. Heading towards it with wings raised like battleships in full sail, their necks firmly braced in their classic 2 shapes, making themselves as large and impressive as possible were the resident Swanpool swan family. This defensive pose is known as busking, and though meant to be threatening it displays the swans’ shape and plumage to their best advantage and it is when busking that they are at their most beautiful to look at. Even the now-grown cygnet was doing his best to be Big and Frightening. Several onlookers were gathered at the scene. I spied the man at the water’s edge with the remote control. Pen and Cygnet sailed off to one side leaving Mr Cob to make a stand, which he did, chasing after the remote boat at high speed, his own wake considerably smaller in the water.

2013.01.20 (12)

Prior to its designation as a Nature Reserve for its rare situation as a brackish water environment Swanpool did used to be a boating lake. Now human activity on and in the pool itself is very limited for conservation reasons. Only two fishing permits are issued for the lake, and visitors are advised to keep to the path circling the water and to avoid tampering with the vegetation and any nesting birds, as well as keeping litter to a minimum to prevent the rat populations thriving as these pose a threat to nesting birds here. The boating activity is limited to the Falmouth Model Boat Club which is probably where the remote controllers came in. Usually the club specialises in scale models and has existed for a  long time alongside the birds and beasts of the Nature Reserve. Whether or not the angry adult swans could really be a threat to the boaters is debatable. They certainly are strong, especially in the wings. Their wingspans can be greater than two meters and they can reach flying speeds of up to 60 mph. As to whether or not their capability of breaking a man’s arm is just ‘urban’ (rural?) myth? Luckily the man with the mini speed boat gave up chasing Mr Swan before he had a chance to find out.

February 15th

It’s about time the young swan left. In the next few weeks the parents will be building their nest again and this lake is too small a territory to support more than one pair comfortably. Swans are notoriously territorial – hence the anger at the electric boat – and this extends even to their own offspring once they have out grown the nest. It is likely that the departed cygnet was driven off by its own parents, serene as they now seem at the lakeside.

If she has in fact left for good then she’ll have joined up with a larger flock or with a group of other young swans somewhere nearby: another lake, a river, a creek. If she continues to thrive as she – or he – has done for the first nine months of its life then she/he will probably live in a colony for the next couple of years. Swans don’t usually start breeding until they are about three years old, often pairing for life. However fatality, often through flying accidents, is common in the first year. She’s made it this far…

In less than a month the first of this year’s eggs will probably be laid. Maybe this year more than two will hatch. Maybe this year more than one will survive.

More on this: Love the Wild Swan by Robinson Jeffers

You may also like: the other articles in the Swanpool Swans archive charting the family’s progress since the first egg was laid last March.

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