Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Affection and protection

click photo to enlarge
"You can look, but don't even think about touching!" That's what this mute swan (probably a male or "cob") seemed to be saying as I pointed my camera towards him and his following cygnets. Like any good father he was giving his offspring affection and protection as they foraged for food on the canal. And, like any vulnerable infants, the cygnets dutifully kept close to their parent, taking their lead from his actions, learning what is safe and what can't be trusted.

The mute swan (Cygnus olor) is one of seven species of swan found worldwide. It is also the largest British bird, and one of the largest flying birds. In Britain the species is again numerous after a period of significant decline, during the second half of the twentieth century, caused by lead poisoning from the weights used by fishermen. Interestingly, the domestication of the mute swan, and its use in medieval times as food, probably saved the bird from extinction in our country. In the distant past herds had to be marked with an owner's mark, and any unmarked birds became the property of the Crown. Swans became known as "Royal birds" for this reason. Marking is still carried out on the Thames, and at Abbotsbury in Dorset, where the colony of mute swans has existed for 600 years.

It was hard NOT to take a photograph of this delightful little group! The small, fluffy, dowdiness of the chicks, compared with the large, white, regal parent, all outlined against the dark water made a good contrast. I used a zoom lens at 300mm (35mm equivalent) and pressed the shutter as the adult turned to make one of its frequent checks on what I was doing.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen