Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A swan, a wire, a death

click photo to enlarge
In my early teens I was a keen birdwatcher and the fascination with birds has stayed with me since that time. In fact, I consider it to have been a life-enriching activity. It's fair to say that my interest was never as deep in later life as it was in those early years, but I have always been alert to the bird life around me, and I remain so today. As well as recording the number and species of the birds I saw, I plotted nest sites, photographed birds and collected a few artefacts - feathers, the odd wing and skull (including those of a curlew and a heron). The latter activity may sound a touch macabre, but I never considered it so. I used to periodically come across dead birds and they provided the materials for my small collection. Skulls were sometimes clean and bleached white by exposure to the sun: others could be made so by leaving them near an ants' nest! I'd probably been inspired to collect these things by the displays of stuffed birds that seemed to feature in every museum I visited, and by the stories in the Victorian and early twentieth century bird books that I posessed.

On a recent cycle ride I came upon a sight that brought back those early days. The farm track upon which I was travelling was littered with wings, bunches of tail feathers and smaller, downy feathers. All were white, though the wings had a hint of brown too. The death of the bird must have been quite recent because the remaining bone and tissue where the wings had been parted from the body were still quite red with blood. I immediately knew that the bird was a young mute swan (Cygnus olor) and that it had died or been seriously injured when it flew into the wires above the track. This happen all too frequently to swans, and I've come across them before in similar circumstances. What I couldn't deduce from the evidence before me was what had eaten the rest of the bird. Perhaps it was a fox, maybe a stoat, possibly rats or a domestic cat, certainly carrion crows or magpies: probably, however, a few or all of these had a meal or two off it.

Not being one to pass up a photographic opportunity, even one that's a touch grisly, I took out my compact camera, set the aspect ratio to 16:9 and took this "scene of crime" shot.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On