Na­ture Notes

Monthly Chronicle - - Outdoor Lifestyle - NICK HODGES

Like many Aus­tralians I have friends who live in this coun­try and who are mar­ried to Bri­tons, and Bri­tish friends who are mar­ried to Aus­tralians and live in the UK. We get on well. The same seems to ap­ply in the swan world.

The mute swan (a cu­ri­ous mis­nomer be­cause it ac­tu­ally grunts) is the well­known white swan. Not that it's re­ally an Aus­tralian bird. It was in­tro­duced to parts of Western Aus­tralia in the 19th cen­tury in­clud­ing Northam, a small town north-east of Perth.

The in­tro­duc­tions were not suc­cess­ful and the bird is now al­most im­pos­si­ble to find out­side of Northam. But there white swans can still be found, where they live and breed, on the Avon River.

The birds are more eas­ily seen in Europe where they are na­tive. If you visit Strat­ford, in Eng­land, the birth­place of Shake­speare and on the Avon River ( in a cu­ri­ous co­in­ci­dence shar­ing the same name with the river in Northam), you'll see dozens of the birds: right next to the theatre com­plex of the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany.

Swans have al­ways been seen as beau­ti­ful and are revered through­out the world. Ref­er­ences abound in the arts. Wag­ne­r­ian opera sees the hero, Lo­hen­grin, ar­rive by a boat drawn by a swan; Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen's ugly duck­ling grew into a swan. And then there's the bal­let, Swan Lake.

But that's the white swan. What about our black swan? It's also a beau­ti­ful bird. With its del­i­cate red and pink­ish bill it's pos­si­bly the more at­trac­tive of the two species.

Some of our black swans were gifted to a de­lighted Sir Win­ston Churchill at his home in south­ern Eng­land in the 1920s. Later, more birds were pre­sented to Bri­tain by the WA gov­ern­ment and our Aus­tralian swans got a foothold in the UK.

Some of the Bri­tish black swans must have es­caped be­cause I've oc­ca­sion­ally seen them in the wild over there. Once a flock of swans flew past in per­fect chevron flight. Four were white, the fifth was an Aus­tralian black swan. How's that for Bri­tish - Aus­tralian mateship?

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