Mum and Dad Swap Roles
Both swans had to undergo their annual moult at sometime during the summer. This is where the old feathers are shed and new ones are grown to replace them.
It was Mum who underwent hers first. After she'd regained her full complement of feathers, Dad started his period of renewal.
During his moult, he was unable to fly and chase away interloping swans, so there was a role reversal between the two adults. Whilst Dad was temporarily grounded, Mum took on territorial patrol duties..
The male pulls out his worn out feathers during part of his annual moult.
Whilst the female took on territorial patrol duties, her mate spent more time taking care of the youngsters.
A Close Shave
The youngsters were growing fast and they wanted to stretch their wings and explore beyond their parents' territory.
One day, three of the cygnets ventured out on their own, and into the home range of another big male swan. In fact, it was the same cob the family had experienced a run-in with a month or so before, but his time, the cygnets were without the protection of their mum and dad. In a heavy rain storm, the three youngsters were chased and physically attacked by the other adult bird.
Learning to Fly
The time had come for the swans' offspring to learn to fly, so they could flee the nest and start the own independent lives.
During this time they would spend considerable lengths of time flapping their wings about, building up their flight muscles, and running across the surface, trying to achieve lift-off. And under the watchful eye and guidance from their mum, they soon got the hang of things.
The Final Goodbye
Early one October morning it happened; just after sunrise, the last of the youngsters that I'd closely followed since they'd emerged from the egg, finally left.
This photograph shows the one remaining male cygnet speeding across the surface as it took off for the last time. When they take-off, the birds normally look straight ahead, but as he sped across the water, the swan appears to glance over in my direction. Moments later he was in the air, and within minutes, was out of sight and gone.
Want To Know More?
Photographs only reveal a small fraction of what really happened over that summer. To discover more, go here.
There are were many interesting relationships that developed, not only between the birds themselves, but also, between the swans and I. It was as though they bestowed onto to me their trust, to enable the true, private life of the mute swan to be revealed. I remember one morning when one of the cygnets died. Remarkably, after a close visual inspection of the body, the mother decided to cover-up her deceased offspring by placing reed stems over it. Creating a scene of symbolic poignancy, one of the remaining cygnets then came over to investigate what was happening, and after a good look, it then fell asleep next to his former playmate. You can see the raw images captured at that the time here.
I felt that this entire story could not be told by pictures alone, so I decided to write up the whole journey in a book, Swan Life.
Swan Life tells the story of these two beautiful adult swans in their struggle for life on Dorset's River Stour. However, this is more than just a wildlife book though, it's also the story about the eternal cycle of life and the connection that exists between us and nature.
You can buy your copy from here.
In this book you will get a more in-depth account of what it is like for a pair of swans raise a family in the wild. But the book is about more than just a pair of swans rearing their young so they could fly-off and start their own independent lives. Swan Life is also about the relationships between the various members of the family and how they change over time. Not only that though, the whole journey had an unexpected ending, which revealed another interesting facet of the lives of these birds; an aspect, I think, we can all relate to, particularly as we get older.
So, if you would like to know more about them and their cygnets, and how mute swans lead their lives in the wild, you can order your copy of Swan Life right now - I can't wait for you to discover how much more to these birds than initially meets the eye. You can get your copy from here.