The nature of things
FOUR swans announce their approach, honking to each other in animated conversation as they fly past, the whoosh, whoosh sound of their wing beats suggesting the power with which these magnificent large birds propel themselves. Despite the visual advantages of being some 70ft in the air, they use the river as their guide and take the trouble to follow its meanders, instead of simply travelling ‘as the crow flies’.
The numbers of swans at large in British waters are substantially swelled over the winter months as our year-round residents are supplemented by whoopers and Bewick’s, sojourning here instead of the inhospitable Arctic tundra. We have to thank Sir Peter Scott, wildfowler-turned-conservationist and founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, for discovering that Bewick’s swans, the smaller of the winter-visiting species, can be identified by the markings on their bills; in drawing them from life, he noticed that the bill patterns (which show a good deal of black against the yellow around the face) are as unique to them as fingerprints are to us.