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Lockdown diary of the swan

Lockdown diary of the swan


Postby dogplodder » Mon Jun 22, 2020 5:13 pm

Date walked: 27/05/2020

Distance: 10 km

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Over the past 14 weeks of lockdown this has been one of my regular walks with the dog. Through the fields to the UHI campus, down the cycle track to the retail park and back by Ashton Farm.

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Before the field was sown we walked round the edge but now we keep to the road
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Taking the track to a vet place for doing animal surgery
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Inverness UHI campus with Ben Wyvis beyond
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Closed college and no students around
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Swan lake
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I watched this pair of mute swans from before lockdown. First the building of the nest, then the female (pen) sitting on eggs for 36 days while the male (cob) mostly kept watch from the other side. The first time he saw me with the dog he swam over but that seemed to satisfy him we weren't a threat as he didn't check on us again.

Swan eggs are laid over a few days but the idea is to have them all hatch at once. This is important so both adults are available to protect the cygnets during the vulnerable first stage away from the nest. So the female doesn't start incubating until she's finished laying and it's only when they get the warmth from her that the eggs start to develop. Before and during the egg laying she eats far more than normal, building up reserves for the time ahead when she eats very little. Meanwhile the cob may sit on the eggs to keep them from going cold but his under feathers are not adapted in the way the pen's are to give enough heat to start the embryo development.

For those who are interested here are some dates and photos to show how things progressed.

Nest on 18th April
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Pen incubating eggs
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Cob keeping watch on other side
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In all the times I visited it was always her on the nest. I never saw him on the nest, but she must have been off briefly each day to have a quick feed. Usually when I was there she was asleep with her head tucked into her body. I imagine this is the best way of conserving her energy reserves, but the pen will still lose about a third of her body weight during incubation.

30th April and still on the nest
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On 3rd May her position on the nest had changed to more spread out and I saw a fluffy head appearing briefly from under her. The next day I felt like cheering to see six cygnets clustered in the water a few feet from the nest and the cob now close by, while she remained on the nest. This meant there were still unhatched eggs, making it a vulnerable time for the day old cygnets as unlike other baby birds they have to learn to feed themselves right away and the sooner the adults can start teaching them this the better their chance of survival.

On 4th May newly hatched fluff balls
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What helps to keep them going during the first week is the yolk they absorb in the egg just before hatching. Most cygnets that don't make it will die in the second week, by which time they need to be feeding themselves if they're going to survive.

Cob now in close attendance as small cygnets are attractive to the local gulls if they get half a chance
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If the remaining eggs don't hatch soon she will have to leave them
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One returning to nest
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To safety and warmth of mum
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The last to hatch are disadvantaged by having to take to the water immediately and if they can't keep up they can become a liability to the whole brood. The last two eggs did hatch and a week later there were eight cygnets, although one didn't make it as now there are seven.

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Back to 27th May, the date of this walk. The cygnets were now three weeks old and the adults were demonstrating aquatic acrobatics done swan style. This involved nose-diving to dredge for weed, but they were careful not to have both of them upended at the same time. There was always one of them with head above water to keep an eye on their brood.

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One of the days I was there I bumped into three of the grandsons. This wasn't planned and was before we were meant to meet up with family and friends outdoors, so felt such a bonus to see them! One of them spotted a coot's nest and the tiny cootlings taking their first swim - all magical stuff.

Grandsons
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The dog had become used to waiting patiently while I fiddled with my camera but would be quite keen to get walking again so she could have some time off lead. We would leave the swan nursery and cut through some of the buildings to reach a track that leads to a bridge over the railway line.

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Over railway line
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Cycle track to retail park
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Railway line heading to Culloden
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Yellow flower but don't know what it is
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Retail park during lockdown
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Short cut to farm road from Tesco car park
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Broom on road to Ashton Farm
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Over to Culloden woods
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Ashton Farm
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There's a collie at the farm that gives us a rapturous welcome through the fence and I think he and Keira might have fallen in love.

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Ord Hill on the Black Isle and Moray Firth
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Under railway line
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So there you have it. A lockdown walk on a beautiful afternoon with the breeding habits of the mute swan thrown in.
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Re: Lockdown diary of the swan

Postby LoveWalking » Mon Jun 22, 2020 10:51 pm

Lovely :)
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Re: Lockdown diary of the swan

Postby Sunset tripper » Tue Jun 23, 2020 9:00 am

Good diary of the swans progress. I have been through the campus a lot recently on my days off or after work. Sad that one of the swans didnt make it, I hadn't noticed there was only seven now. I took these photos on the 18th of May and they had all gone for a walk and were in the top pond.
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I dont know if you have been over the new bridge over the railway line yet. They stopped the work on it initially for the lockdown but opened almost 2 weeks ago and a new option. :D
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Re: Lockdown diary of the swan

Postby tweedledog » Tue Jun 23, 2020 9:37 am

Lovely stuff Kathleen!
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Re: Lockdown diary of the swan

Postby Gordie12 » Wed Jun 24, 2020 3:42 am

Hi DP

Really enjoyed the photos of the swans (3:40am and I am being educated on swans :shock: )

Looks like we have all had to adapt our walking habits over the last few months but it's been interesting to see everybody's home territory.
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Re: Lockdown diary of the swan

Postby dogplodder » Wed Jun 24, 2020 3:32 pm

Sunset tripper wrote:Good diary of the swans progress. I have been through the campus a lot recently on my days off or after work. Sad that one of the swans didnt make it, I hadn't noticed there was only seven now.


I went back yesterday to check how they're doing and sad to say there are now only five cygnets. They were in the top pond being fed by mums with small kids on bread and prawn crackers, which I'm not sure is their ideal diet but they didn't seem too bothered. :roll:
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Re: Lockdown diary of the swan

Postby dogplodder » Wed Jun 24, 2020 3:36 pm

tweedledog wrote:Lovely stuff Kathleen!


Not bad for a Boris walk! :lol:
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Re: Lockdown diary of the swan

Postby dogplodder » Wed Jun 24, 2020 3:40 pm

Gordie12 wrote:Hi DP

Really enjoyed the photos of the swans (3:40am and I am being educated on swans :shock: )



Sounds like me sometimes at 3.40am. Insomniacs of the world unite! :shh:
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Re: Lockdown diary of the swan

Postby dogplodder » Fri Jul 03, 2020 2:39 pm

Sunset tripper wrote:
I dont know if you have been over the new bridge over the railway line yet. They stopped the work on it initially for the lockdown but opened almost 2 weeks ago and a new option. :D


I have now and got mugged by the pollen! There's so much uncut grass and a local GP says there's been an explosion of bad hay fever over the past few weeks - which it's thought is due to lack of air pollution causing the pollen to sink, so more of it floating around. :(

Here's a photo of the five remaining cygnets, taken last week when they were 8 weeks old.
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