• Naomi Lawless

Not my swan song

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Hope you enjoyed last week’s blog post and that you were inspired to bring more greenery and plants into your life. This week I was reminiscing, and todays blog has been influenced by the nature that surrounded me when I was a child. Growing up in a city full of rivers and canals, water birds were a common sight everywhere. In particular swans commanded a lot of attention from me, as did seagulls but only when they stole my food. I have fond memories of my mother taking me to feed the swans and ducks as a child. I have since learned that bread is bad for them, sorry swans.


During this time of year in my hometown, Galway, I would survey the canal banks for the first signs of cygnets hatching. Each family would get a name based on its location and their brood would be counted and their progress watched hoping all the cygnets survive. Some years tragedy would strike and happy broods of seven or so would soon be down to one. Other years the whole brood would survive, and we would rejoice at the sight of many greyish-white teenage swans. I have been informed that the ‘cathedral’ swans are doing particularly well this year. Now that I live further away from rivers and canals I realise how much I miss watching the cygnets hatch and grow. So, this year I requested photos from my family and friends of the swan families near them so I thought I would share them here too with some information about the species.


The ‘Cathedral’ swans and their brood on the river Corrib, Galway, Ireland. Photo taken in late May/early June


Swans are captivating creatures and hold a prominent place in many cultures. Revered for their beauty and grace they are featured in fairytales, ballets, myths, and legends. In Irish folklore the children of Lir were turned into swans by their jealous stepmother Aoife. Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan lake, which is based on Russian and German folklore, features a princess being turned into a swan by a sorcerer’s curse. I am sensing a theme here. The metaphorical term swan song originates from an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song before they died. Having heard swans calling I’m not sure this belief holds up. In Britain mute swans were a luxury commodity in the middle ages and were often traded between noblemen. Today the queen has prerogative over all swans in England and Wales and the tradition of counting the swans on the Thames (swan-upping) still occurs to this day, however this is now for conservation and monitoring the population.


Swans out for an afternoon paddle in Lacock, Chippenham, UK. Early June 2020


There are six species of swan in total three of these can be found in the UK and Ireland. Bewick’s swan and Whooper swans are migratory and visit the UK and Ireland during the winter. The mute swan (Cygnus olor) can be found all year long wherever there is a lake, pond, or river. It is native to Europe but has also be introduced to parts of America, Australia, and Asia. This is the swan that I grew up around, and the swan that probably inspired many of the myths and stories I’ve mentioned, so I will delve a little bit deeper into its characteristics.


Mute swans generally mate for life, although ‘divorce’ isn’t unheard of. They make large mounds of reeds, sticks and vegetation to create their nest. The female constructs the nest while the male finds the materials. The clutch usually consists of somewhere between four and seven eggs. The pair take turns incubating and the eggs take about 35-45 days to hatch. The cygnets then stay with their parents for about four or five months. Some are driven off the parent’s territory, but others stay with their parents in a large flock until they find mates. The birds generally do not breed for the first two or three years of their life. The oldest ringed swan that has been recorded was 15 years old. Swans natural diet includes insects and aquatic vegetation (no bread).


Swans in Bristol, UK. Five seems to be the magic number for brood size this year. The cygnets above are the same brood. The photos were taken around the second week in June 2020.


This species of swan is considered of least concern in terms of conservation worldwide however, in both the UK and Ireland this species has an amber conservation status. This means these populations are facing threats, the main one being pollution of waterways. I will share some resources to about swan conservation below. Learn from my past mistakes and don’t feed swans and ducks bread it can cause dietary problems when eaten in large quantities. I hope this makes you want to get and explore the animals and nature in your local area.


Last weeks blog ended promising an update on my scallions. I now have almost fully regrown onions, it is taking a little bit longer than I thought but I think they don’t get much sun where they are which I think would help them grow faster.

Last week I started regrowing spring onions in water.

Image on the left shows spring onions one week ago. Photo on the right shows a weeks worth of growth.


Until next time,


Naomi


https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/mute-swan/

https://birdwatchireland.ie/birds/mute-swan/

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/waterfowl/mute-swan

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