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Ode on the Pittville swans and cygnets
In loving memory of Zelda Swan

Swan family.jpg

                        Nick Scott, ‘The Swan family’ (pinked by FFT)

Just off the southern curve of Lower Lake
  there’s a round island ringed by leaning trees –
young ash and willow mingle in the brake
  and gold birch catkins ripple in the breeze;
through April, George Swan ferried to this ground
  green grass and rushes from the water’s edge
    and pine sticks gathered from the fragrant grove,
for his mate Zelda to restore their mound
  above the spreading shapes of springtime sedge
    and then to lay seven eggs in silver trove.

Three dozen days or so, the parents sit
  upon the nest by turn until one day…
Tap-tap! inside till every shell is split
  and seven cygnets are born on 1st of May;
exhausted from their journey into light,
  the bashing of egg-tooth through wax and lime,
    they snuggle up and doze by Mother’s breast;
meanwhile with wings upraised and flaxen-white
  Dad’s sailing over water, weeds, and slime,
    a warship now, with bulging berry crest.

The fourth day dawns; arrayed in golds and pinks,
  the family waddle from their island home
as breezes waft through birch and little chinks
  of sunshine flicker on the rich clay loam.
Big George, who leads, encourages with snorts
  and Zelda grunts endearments at the rear –
    the fluffy cygnets cheep a charming phrase;
at last all launch from trailing willow ports,
  a grand flotilla gliding pier to pier
    while in the old horse chestnut, candles blaze.

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Published on The HyperTexts, July 2021

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Since December 2011, when I moved to Pittville from Central Cheltenham, I’ve enjoyed observing the swans and cygnets of Pittville Park. As I mention in my notes on ‘King of the Lakes’, Zelda Swan died in June 2021. Sadly she succumbed to a fierce infection that had set in following a re-fracture of her femur. She is much missed by all.

One highlight of the ‘Swan Calendar’ is the birth of the cygnets in the Spring, usually late April to mid-May. I’ve always been delighted to see the fluffy little children, from their first moments of setting sail with Mum and Dad through the next few months of growing up and becoming increasingly independent, until they’re ready to leave. Their new home tends to be Evesham or Worcester, where they settle with a breeding flock for about three years. Once they’ve met a mate, they fly away and seek a territory for raising their own young. I might write about that soon!

At the moment (October 2021), it isn’t known what will happen with the cygnets this year. If Zelda were still with him, George would begin to think about mating by the end of the year and start chasing off his children to make way for the next brood. It’s an uncertain time.

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