Wednesday 5 May 2021

On Swans

Wanstead Flats has two permanent water bodies, Alexandra Lake and Jubilee Pond. It also has two impermanent water bodies, Cat & Dog Pond, and Angel (aka Bandstand). We also have something like 50 Mute Swans. As many birders will know, Mute Swans tend to be bad at sharing, and the dominant male of a breeding pair will relentlessly pursue and chase off any other Swans (or Geese) from his chosen breeding pond. This is what has happened on Alex - one pair, the female on a nest, the male on endless circuits to intercept interlopers. On Jubilee the picture is a little different. Here roughly 46 Swans coexist in perpetual brownian motion, with birds forever arguing, getting booted off and having a fly around. Any male dumb enough to breed there would die of exhaustion, so I think the pond is simply used for jockeying and training purposes. Cat & Dog is simply too small to have been considered, however Angel looked pretty good at the start of the year and a canny pair snuck off from Jubilee to give it a go.

What they didn't factor in was seasonality. This winter was particularly wet, and Angel has been looking fantastic. However an incredibly dry April has really taken its toll, and the margins have been receding by the day. The nest mound that was once nicely surrounded by water is soon going to be on dry land, and this raises the ugly possibility of disturbance.

Only yesterday I watched in horror as "Ziggy" charged directly at the Shoulder of Mutton male Mute Swan, causing it to rear away in terror to deeper water. Would that the dog had followed and then been drowned by it. The owners, an older couple, were of course utterly ineffectual and didn't bother with a lead even after this near miss, and also completely ignored my attempts to educate, quickly walking away. I have their number though (and photos), they must live locally as they returned via the other side of the pond, sneaking glances at me all the time as I watched them through my bins - they knew they were bang out of order but obviously are not man enough to admit it. The Angel birds will soon not have the protection of the water, and that is a problem waiting to happen.

The Corporation have been great and put up a temporary rope fence, and some good signage too, but all it will take is one out of control dog. The rope fence is just that, a visual barrier but not a physical one. The signs will almost certainly be ignored by the more militant of the dog owners, and so I am extremely worried that there is going to be a horrible tragedy in the coming days. There is still water in the pond, and if the eggs can hatch soon and the cygnets can grow enough to swim out then we may yet get away with it. I'll keep you posted.

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