It’s been a treat of a week on Southampton Common if you like cygnets and don’t mind the rain too much. The cygnets don’t mind the rain, because they have their parents’ downy backs to ride on and snuggle into. From this cosy vantage point they can watch the humans standing in the rain beside the Boating Lake waiting to catch a glimpse of them.
The cygnet-fest began on Monday for me. It was raining quite heavily, so the obvious thing to do was to go and stand at the Ornamental Lake for a while so that I could see how the cygnets were getting along. When I arrived I was reassured to find that I was by no means the only person who considered this a reasonable way to behave. There were two cygnets in the water with the male swan when I arrived, and one in the nest with the female. However, all was not well with the little one in the nest, and after a number of exchanges between the parents, the mother left the cygnet and the nest, and was gently ushered away by her partner, along with their two other babies. He led his family into the foliage at the edge of the lake for about half an hour, before escorting them back onto the lake, and taking care of the two healthy cygnets whilst the female returned to the nest. It was by now empty, and after checking a couple of times, and calling to her partner, she returned to her family: now just the four of them. It was sad, but rather touching, to see how the male swan guided his partner through the process of letting nature take it’s course.
The next day was the highlight of the week for me: every year, after the cygnets hatch, the swan family migrate from the Ornamental Lake to the Boating Lake, but I have never witnessed the event before. This year I was very lucky. As I was wandering and wondering whether the heron would come close enough to be photographed properly I saw a jogger dodging around something at the island corner of the lake. I grabbed my camera and dashed over, yelling impolitely at a gentleman and his daughters (whom I had never met before) to join me for the experience of a lifetime. They followed the disorderly old woman and together we caught up with the swan family. One of the Park Rangers came across to supervise the process: without any interference with the swans’ plans he ensured that the path they took was kept clear of humans, dogs and bikes. As the swans chose to walk along the main path between the lakes, at a busy time, his presence was much appreciated by all.
The cygnets, who were only about three days old, walked every step of the way to the Boating Lake, with no offer of a lift from mum or dad at any stage. They were, however, treated like royalty, with their adoring subjects lining the way, exclaiming and taking photos.
Once at the Boating Lake the cygnets plopped into their new home and have commanded a constant stream of exclaiming onlookers ever since. They have taken their popularity very much in their stride, as they sail around on mum or dad’s back (causing great anxiety if snuggling under their parents’ feathers takes them out of the sight of their fan base), splash around together, and take time out to sit on the side of the lake in the sunshine (or rain!) With the seagulls and crows also taking an unhealthy interest in them though the accepted greeting at the Boating Lake is no longer “Hello, how are you? “ But an anxious: “Are there still two?”
In between times, the little grebes have had a less lucky week. They had a beautiful nest constructed near the side of the Boating Lake, but unfortunately on Thursday it became rather waterlogged in the rain. There was something left of it on Friday, once the water levels fell a little, but the eggs may well have been lost. However, they are rather determined little characters, and may, I hope, make another nest soon if this one hasn’t worked out. Elsewhere, back on the Ornamental Lake there were still three little coot chicks on Friday, looking as cute and fuzzy as ever.
It really has been all about the cygnets this week though! Perhaps next week I will drag myself away from them, especially if the weather becomes a bit more damselfly and butterfly friendly. If not, well, the cygnets really are fun to spend quality time with, and I have had a fantastic week on Southampton Common, despite being forced back to drinking flasks of warming coffee rather than cool water from the newly installed water dispensers at the Hawthorns and playground.