Phew! Great relief as mother swan appears round a bend in the stream with four cygnets in tow. We had an anxious half hour after arriving at Pond Cottage when only the dad and two young ones appeared at the bank to be fed. It’s not easy being surrogate swan parents!

Every spring we feel privileged when two mating swans claim their space on the pond. And every year we watch from a respectful distance as the ritual unfolds: the courting dance, the clinching act, the nest building, the sitting and waiting. We humans can relate with all of that.

And then the magic moment, the day when the eggs hatch and mother emerges with her six or seven young ones.

Mother swan appears among reeds with seven cygnets

Every year Ray and I experience an odd vicarious parental pride, from our respectful distance on the bank, along with an apprehensive wondering: how many of them will make it this season? Occasionally the whole brood survive the summer, often at least one or two perish.

But to lose four in a week, as Ray puts it: “that’s a high rate of attrition”.

And why? How? What would be the agent of death and destruction?   We stare blankly at the opaque water, claggy with algae blooming after a day of warmth.

Every year there are new dangers: mink, foxes, bad weather. Last year, for the first time, we saw an otter hunting in the pond, a marvellous and fearful moment, but the swan adults successfully and quite magnificently sent it packing. One summer, now far away, we saw flash floods destroy the swans’ nest, washing it clear away from the bank. But the mother calmly transported her young ones to safety, carrying them nestled down between her wings.

Adult swans, protecting   cygnets between them, swimming in water reflecting green leaves from the bank

Proud and protective parents


So, in short, we are pleased to see this year’s mother appear round the corner in the stream, back from who knows where (or why?) with four sturdy cygnets paddling along behind her. Insects flickering above the muddy water, the two adults meet,  wings lifted, seemingly in greeting ( or, where have you been?) and then seem to agree it’s time to join the humans waiting with grain on the bank. Mother arrives hissing. Let’s not get too sentimental about this reunion.

The cygnets are now three weeks old, almost the size of adult mallard ducks. We spend a happy sun-downing half hour sitting and sipping near them – I’ll have you know we broke out the rhubarb champagne (alcohol content unknown) to celebrate – watching the family scooping and slurping up grain from the waters edge.

The male is the last to leave, one leg casually raised above the water, the other smoothly paddling away below the surface, heading towards the sunset. Daddy Cool.