All’s fair in love and war….

Generally, swans mate for life. However, this is not always the case….

Floppy, as we had now taken to calling him – (Penelope no longer seemed appropriate, for obvious reasons) – settled down and seemed to become resigned to being alone. I carried on making sure he was well fed….a diet of mixed corn and wholemeal bread….he grew into a magnificent specimen….

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He became a regular companion  when we worked in the garden. If I was indoors, I would often spy him through the window, waiting patiently for food, at the top of the steps by the back door….

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Then, one summer’s day in 2011, another pair of mute swans arrived on the scene. For a couple of weeks, chaos reigned. Floppy was extremely interested in making friends with the female but her mate was having none of it. The two males fought constantly, it was quite distressing to witness….

It soon became obvious the intention of the new comers was to oust Floppy from his home, they wanted his territory for themselves. So, collectively, the residents of the Corner began to actively discourage them. Not cruelly, of course, just plenty of loud hand clapping and a little bit of chasing, enough to show them they were unwanted. Fortunately, they soon got the message and departed…. and our boy was able to claim his home back….

Evidently though, Floppy had made an impression on a certain lady swan. It was the Autumn of 2012 and he had gone off on one of his ‘jaunts’, as he still did from time to time – (I no longer worried as he always returned eventually). One Sunday morning, I was doing a spot of clearing up in the front garden, when my neighbour stopped on his way past the gate. He had just walked across the Common and he remarked that “all hell was breaking loose in the village”. Apparently, three swans were fighting in the middle of the main road…. Naturally, I was concerned but I didn’t have to be for long….

It was about half an hour later when I saw two swans determinedly making their way across the Common in our direction. As they approached, I recognised the one in the lead as Floppy and he was making a ‘bee line’ for the garden gate. What happened next I can only describe as an honour…. He brought his new lady friend directly to me, in order for us to meet….I am sure she was from the same pair that had landed here the previous year. I later learned that the other swan had flown off, accompanied by a cygnet…. Floppy had won the contest and procured himself a wife. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the other male and I had to raise an eyebrow at the morals of this new spouse of Floppy’s…. So much for swans mating for life….

This new female became known to us as ‘Lady’…. although I’m not quite sure if she actually deserved that name, as by deserting her original family she had hardly behaved like one…. However, she has obviously found happiness with Floppy as they have been inseparable ever since….

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Pond life….

In the early days of our living at No.3, the nearby pond, a part from the odd coot or moorhen, was pretty much devoid of birdlife. All that was to change in the Autumn of 2006, with the arrival of two mute swans….

Being an animal lover, I couldn’t resist feeding them. It didn’t take long for them to realise they were on to a good thing. Not being content for me to decide when it was meal time, they would come and find me when they were hungry.

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Naturally, they acquired names, “Cobblers” and “Penelope” – a play on the terms for a male and female swan (cob and pen) – cheesy, I know….

Not knowing an awful lot about swans at that time, we assumed we knew which was which of the pair…. One had a much darker orange beak than the other and the ‘knob’ located at the top of the beak, was far more prominent. So this was obviously the male….

“Cobblers” was ringed. He had a certain gentleness to his nature, willingly accepted food from the hand and seemed used to people. “Penelope”, on the other hand, was not ringed and much wilder….

The pair would divide their time between the nearby pond and the one a little further up, by the main road. They seemed quite content with their lot….

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“Come on dear, it’s time we were going…”

 

Then, a few months later – the unspeakable happened…. The two of them had chosen to spend the night on the roadside pond – during the early hours, “Cobblers” was shot dead. As it is a criminal offence to harm, let alone kill a swan, the police attempted to find out who was responsible for such a despicable act but sadly to no avail….

A post mortem was carried out by a local vet and from this, through his ring, it was discovered that “Cobblers” originated from Hampton Court…. He had indeed been,  a very Royal swan….

“Penelope” was understandably very subdued after losing her companion, swans grieve, just as we do. I carried on with the feeding but a few weeks later, she disappeared and I thought that was that. Imagine my delight, when a couple of months later, I glanced out of the window and saw a swan on the pond. I grabbed some bread and rushed out….

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I know this might sound daft….but something ‘clicked’ with that bird in that instance. “Penelope” made eye contact and held my stare…. It was a surreal moment, one I will never forget – I felt as if I was being ‘read’. A bond was formed, one that holds fast to this day….

A few weeks later, she disappeared again, once more to return a while later. This became the pattern for the next year or so….

Over that time, “Penelope” underwent some changes. She appeared to get bigger, her neck thickened, her beak became darker and the caruncle (the correct term for the knob on the beak) increased in size. You have probably guessed where this is going by now…. “Penelope” was in fact a male….!!

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On his original arrival in 2006, he had obviously been a juvenile. Cygnets take up to a year to loose their brown feathers and become white. They are not ready to breed until they are about four years old. Whether “Cobblers” had actually been male or female, I don’t know….possibly the pair had been parent and son….

Luckily, “Penelope” seemed completely unconcerned by the mistaken identity….

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