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A large imposing swan in a small temporary kingdom

by Paul Cormacain

A SOLITARY Bewick swan landed on the lake.

Large, imposing, perhaps a trifle lonely, he took his bearing and surveyed his small, temporary kingdom.

Of the three swans who live here or visit us, the Bewick would be the least known.

The mute swan is the swan who lives here all the year round, can be seen in parks and on rivers and would take food from humans in places where a trust would have built up between bird and people.

The Bewick would be smaller than the mute and certainly would not accept food from strangers.

The three swans look reasonably similar, apart from size. The characteristic we tend to look for is the colouring of the bill, and at a glance the Bewick's bill appears to be almost all black.

The Whooper, about the same size as the mute, tends to have a more alert, upright appearance than the mute, and its shape more approximates to the Bewick. Its bill is yellow with a black tip.

Our Bewick swam around, ever alert, but the only thing that stirred were sheep. Those sheep who were lying down hardly even moved their heads, and those beasts who were eating only moved their heads to feed, occasionally moving on a half metre for more grass.

It was quiet, dry, peaceful. After a time swimming up and down and round and round, and observing, he did not see us for we did not move.

So he decided to look for food. A great healthy diet has this large bird, she eats seeds and water vegetation, a strictly vegan diet which keeps the Bewick fit and happy and healthy.

If you ever nip up north to the Siberian Tundra in the breeding season you'll see the Bewicks.

They built a large mound of moss and lichen on a islet, not unlike the mute swan nests here. A small depression in the middle is sufficient to hold the three to five large eggs, and with both parents in the vicinity the predators tend to be kept at bay.

I was under the impression that the Bewick moved south in the autumn to Scotland and Ireland, but it seems that they head first for their main wintering quarters in the Netherlands. Only when that area freezes over do they then head towards Britain and Ireland, but in much smaller numbers than the Whooper.

Our Bewick swan remained on the small lake for a few hours, moving around, feeding, looking for predators, looking for friends.

He flew off, circled around, then came down over the hill where we knew there was an even smaller lake. That was the last we saw of him for a few hours. Then he reappeared, circled and landed on the lake again.

The lake over the hill was even quieter than our lake. By the same token the food available would have been even less. So he rested more, ate less, then decided our lake was preferable.

Then another creature appeared on the landscape. It was a fox, perhaps driven out to hunt in the day by hungry, complaining cubs. When the swan saw her, it decided to move and we saw no more Bewick, or fox, that day.

Coming Events

Saturday 12 January - Winter in the Lagan Valley at l lam, a 5 mile walk. Call Lagan Valley Regional Park on 9066 2259

Sunday 13 January - Simon Community Charity Walk, at 2pm, in delightful rural surrounds, details from 9023 2882

Monday 28 January - Lisburn RSPB has an interesting topic at its meting at 7.30 in Friend's School. Dave Allen will be knowledgeable about the Search for Roborovski's Rosefinch, more from 9260 1864

Thursday 31 January - Birdwatch Morning, at 11.30, at Castle Espie, details 987 4146

Saturday 2 February - World Wetlands Day, at 2pm, at Oxford Island. Enjoy some birdwatching with an expert in attendance.

Ulster Star