Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Holding the Fort

What a Day! Ferocious winds and sleet, about the worst combination as far as i'm concerned.

The High spring tides at 4.7 metres locally, combined with the wind and low pressure pushed the water onto the river path. The tide is high for the next two days as well, so possible flooding .

The Swans are wondering whats happened, and have been shoring up the nest with all available materials. The water stopped just short of the nest but it could get washed over tomorrow or thursday, we shall just have to wait and see. Fortunately she hasn't started laying yet and is still gathering algae and looking for weed which is still non existent, we need sunlight and warmth for that ! The cob got onto the nest and held the sides down with his wings, to prevent the wind blowing the sides away !

I noticed another problem with one of the drakes, it seems to have something stuck in it's throat and is unable to swallow, he is getting desperate for food and is need of attention. He also has a deformed foot and is wary of getting too close to other ducks because of his inability to escape quickly. I will try and catch him and see whats stuck in his throat, probably a piece of crab shell or maybe a hook, it wont be easy because he is wild and can fly.

I managed to catch another drake a couple of years ago and remove a crab shell that was stuck in it's bill.

At least the duck with the diseased bill has survived the winter and is thriving, the bill seems to have healed well but still a bit missing.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Swan Tragedy !

Today I was reliably informed by a farming friend who lives in the Auldearn direction, that a pair of Swans were killed after hitting power lines on his land. This is a real tragedy, and an all too familiar incident in the lives of swans. Two swans killed in the same day at the same location is really sad, I only hope they were a bonded pair, because it is pitiful when one mate loses another. I will contact the hydro board wildlife engineer and see if discs can be fitted to the pylon lines in that location. Swans are not only elegant in the water, but are majestic in flight too !

As we all know, this was also the fate of our previous Cob at Kingsteps, and the hydro board were quick to install discs to avoid future disasters. Thankfully our Swans have no need to go inland in search of food, and hopefully will never encounter unseen power lines.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Constant Companions

The Swans are busy preparing the nest, and the pen is still stocking up on mineral nutrients. They were mating again yesterday and today the pen sat on the nest with her constant companion close by, am pretty sure she'll be laying soon. ( see video below )

Amazingly I saw for the first time a duck catching and eating a flounder today ! I know they eat worms and insects , but a flounder ! As soon as she grabbed it a hoodie crow flew down and tried to steal it, the duck was determined to keep it and moved away into the water, fish struggling in it's bill. After a few minutes chewing away, she managed to get it down !

Although it was at the other side of the river I got a few shots of Blondie the duck with her fish, and two constant companions.

After another visit to the site office of Jacks merryton building, I spoke to the boss about the unsightly sheet of shredded plastic hanging from the riverside trees. He duly obliged by sending down 3 men and a machine to thankfully remove it, although a small streamer is still there. At least it looks a lot better and less scary for the wildlife !

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Nairn Swans Have Evolved !

The Swans are on the verge of nest building and hopefully giving us another successful season.

Yesterday was encouraging to see both of them gathering nesting material together, and the chance to get an unusual photo shot ! Just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, I think I'll call it Swantisaurus crabicus ! It looked quite spooky and out of this world .

After the pen showed the cob where the exact nesting spot should be, he dutifully did his best to iron out last years bumps by pushing down with his chest and sitting in the depression for about an hour. She is still picking at algae, minerals and any green shoots she can find. I hope the sun keeps shining and we get some green growth after the long hard winter.

Friday, 19 March 2010


Nearly got the swans mating session on video today, if it wasn't for that gale - What a wind ! Swans were in the mood but there was no way they could have a full mating session.

It's interesting to watch how they mirror each others movements, and when the pen dips her head below water he rubs his sides, then they both copy each other in unison. (see vid below.) For those of you who always ask how to tell the difference between the cob and pen, the top photo shows that the cob is closer, taller and has a larger black berry on his bill compared to the pen.

Nice to know we have watchers from the other side of the pond as well - USA, see comment on previous post. The Swans do appeal, and are an asset to Nairns tourist industry.

Pity we have people who have little regard for our riverside and wildlife. Take for instance Jacks building site at the bridge, litter blowing all along the river, plastic sheets, polystyrene and rock wool everywhere !

I complained to the management this morning and he said he would get it lifted, you can see how successful they were from the photo below ! The nesting birds on that bank will be terrified !

Time for another email to environmental health and our councillors ! I HATE LITTER !

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Swans Mating

As I suspected, the warmer weather and longer days has switched on the swans mating mode.

Today was almost identical to the conditions last year when they mated close to the island. I was fortunate to be around when the head dipping and nodding began. Earlier the pen was feeding on minerals and algae from the bottom of the river, the prelude to egg laying.

For those of you who haven't seen the Swan lake dance before, here is a few of today's shots !

Monday, 15 March 2010

Fame at Last !

Having taken down the library photo display this morning, I was able to take them to the museum and discuss what was required for the exhibition there.

I was privileged to be asked to have them displayed for the summer months ! It seems that the photos have impressed many and hopefully will be an attraction for visitors and school groups etc.
This is good news, because I had several invites at different locations and the museum is central to the community. I am particularly pleased that children's groups will be invited to view the wildlife of our river, and make them even more aware of the environment and the life that inhabits it.

Nice to think it will help the local tourist industry, and put Nairn more on the map for wildlife viewing .

Aren't Swans simply superb !

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Goosander & Nearly Time

I think the Cob was hinting today that it's time to start nesting. He got up on the island, but the Pen was biding her time and eating very selective items. They both look in great condition but are missing some green foodstuff.
With steady medium high tides for the next week and milder weather forecast, I think she might get the nest sorted out this week.

My Library display comes down in the morning, but good news for those of you who missed it.

The Nairn Museum wants to display the exhibition probably during April. I will confirm later.

Many of the ducks have disappeared upstream in preparation for mating and nesting, I hope we have a better season this year but somehow I doubt it with all the predators waiting for the young ducklings ! A couple of goosanders were sitting by the bank earlier today giving themselves a good preen, about as close as one gets to photograph.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Last Chance to View Display

"A year in the life of the Nairn Swans" library display ends on monday morning. I may not do another one, so I would suggest you have a look while you can. All the comments I have received so far have been positive, and I am pleased to have given some pleasure and information about our local wildlife. There are photo's on the inside of the display board as well !

Thursday, 11 March 2010

New Litter Bins

Seems like my pleading for something to be done about the litter and dog poop bins has finally been heard - again !

I have sent many emails and photos to the powers that be about the lack of refuse collection at the seamans hall bin, and also the overflowing dog poop bin at merryton bridge.

I finally lost it yesterday and emailed every councillor, Highland region service point, and all the officials and managers in my address book.

I got one immediate response from the Convenor and local Councillor Sandy Park, who said he would look into it.

Today I received this response from Mr Richard Evans.

Mr Telfer and Cllr Park,

In response to Mr Telfer’s email the situation is as follows.

The litter bin in question was defective in that we could not open it. It is a cast iron bin concreted into ground. We forced it open and emptied it yesterday. Today it is being removed and replaced with a 360 litre waste bin on a stand, in the lane to side of Seamans Hall. This larger capacity bin will be emptied by refuse lorry and provides the advantage that seagulls cannot pull debris out; the incidence of which I believe Mr Telfer has also notified us.

Another situation in this area that Mr Telfer has communicated about is the dog bin by the Merryton Bridge which is the busiest bin in Nairn. We are today replacing this with 2 new and larger dog bins.

I hope that resolving these two issues will much improve the litter situation in the local area.


Richard Evans Area Roads and Community Works ManagerInverness, Nairn and Badenoch and StrathspeyTransport, Environmental and Community Services.

I have to give credit where credit is due, and thank Sandy Park and Mr Evans for their prompt action on this matter. It has restored a little bit of faith in highland regions ability to listen to local common sense.

Above photos of before and after the installation of the new bin, I have yet to see the promised new poop bins but am sure they will be installed shortly.
Update: Above, New Poop bins installed this morning.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Cygnets at Findhorn ?

Today I was told that a flock of 21 Swans were in Findhorn bay the other day.

I wonder if the Nairn cygnets are among them, as a general rule cygnets join the first flock they come across - usually within 3 miles of home.

Our residents are recharging the batteries and chilling out - literally, the weather is still not conducive to mating and getting on with nesting yet ! In saying that, the Pen is flitting around picking at algae and silt and other mineral nutrients getting ready for egg production.

All the plant life is behind this year, so it's possible the swans mating season will follow this trend.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Going with the Grain

The swans are getting ready for the new nesting season, and the pen is getting broody, and picky about her food. Spring cant be that far away and it's lovely to hear the birds singing again after such a hard winter. I listened to a blackbird near the road bridge and it was singing such a lovely "all's well" type refrain for the past couple of days.

Last year I tried the Swans with grain but they were not interested, so I thought I would try soaking the grain for a day or two this time, and see if the pen could be tempted to eat it.

The results are clear in the pic and video below .

This will be great for the future, because it provides another healthy diet dimension for the Swans during winter time when food is scarce. In addition to the river weed, I know they like Carrots, wholemeal, spinach and fresh grass. The addition of soaked wheat and corn grains will be ideal if the cygnets are kept over the winter again !
If you haven't seen my photo exhibition yet, then give yourself a treat and visit the library before it ends next weekend ! There are photo's on the inside of the window display as well !

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Exhibition + Swan FAQs

With the blue skies and lovely sunshine, you could be forgiven for thinking spring had sprung today. Most Ducks have paired off now, and are sussing out potential nest sites along the riverbanks. My library photo exhibition is off to a flying start, with the weather on my side for a change, though some of the photos were warping in the sunshine ! Even some visitors were out and about and enjoying my display, It appears to be going down well with locals and visitors alike.

I thought I would accompany the exhibition with some Swan FAQs (frequently asked questions) , they can always be pulled up for future reference.

What do swans eat?
Swans living on fresh water will typically eat pondweed, stonewort and wigeon grass, as well as tadpoles and insects such as milfoil.

Swans living on salt water will typically eat sea arrow grass, salt marsh grass, eel grass, club rush and green algae, as well as insects and molluscs.

What can I feed swans?
If you want to feed swans then give them fresh brown bread (mould is poisonous to them), grain such as wheat or corn, and fresh greens such as lettuce or spinach. The food should be thrown onto the water so that they can swallow water with the food - feeding them on land is environmentally unsound and encourages the swans to leave the water whenever they see people which can bring them into harm from cars, dogs etc.

Can swans be over-fed?
No. Swans are not greedy creatures and will only eat what they need.

Is it normal for a swan to fold one of its legs up onto its back?
Yes. It's like us crossing our legs, plus the large surface area of the foot is used for body temperature control like an elephant's ear, absorbing heat from the sun when necessary.

At what age do swans start mating?
A juvenile swan normally lives as part of a flock until it is about 4 years old and deemed as being an adult. It then seeks out a mate, most commonly from the flock it's living in, and heads off with the mate to find their own mating territory. If another mating pair is nearby then problems can occur in the form of a territorial battle, the losers of which will have to move on in search of another "patch".

What time of year do swans breed?
The mute swan, which is the white swan most commonly seen in the British Isles, will normally mate at anytime from spring through to summer, with the cygnets being born anytime from May through to July.

How long do swans sit on their eggs?
After the nest has been built, which typically takes 2-3 weeks, the egg laying process begins with an egg being laid every 12-24 hours. Once all the eggs have been laid, which can take 2-3 weeks, they will all be incubated (ie sat on to start the growth process) at the same time with hatching usually 42 days (6 weeks) later.

Is it normal for a swan to sit on her eggs for longer than the normal 6 weeks?
Yes. If she is still sitting on the eggs then she must be able to hear movement within the eggs. It may be that she lost her first clutch of eggs to a predator and has laid a new set - this would explain the extended "sitting" period.

What predators do cygnets and swans have?
New born cygnets are mainly lost to crows, herons, magpies, turtles, pike and large perch. Both cygnets and full-grown swans are also the prey of foxes and mink.

The nesting female has disappeared/been killed - should anything be done?
No. The male will take over the nesting process and is quite capable of rearing the cygnets alone.

The nesting female's mate has disappeared/been killed - should anything be done?
No. She is quite capable of rearing the cygnets alone. People often worry that nesting females will starve to death when they have lost their mates as they are scared to leave their nests in search of food - this is incorrect. All female swans feast before nesting as they know food will be harder to come by once they are on the nest - it is normal for them to lose weight during the nesting period. That said, if a nesting female has lost her mate then she will be grateful for any food thrown to her within reach of the nest.

There's a swan's nest in a really vulnerable location - what can be done?
If the nest is vulnerable to interference from human factors, such as on a tow-path or the bank of a pond where people walk their dogs, then you should contact your local council and ask them to erect protective fencing around the nest. If the nest is vulnerable to natural events such as high tides & floodwater then it should be left alone so that the swans can learn from the experience - if a young couple lose a nest under these circumstances then they will learn not to build a nest so low down the next year. Sad as it is, they have to be allowed to learn from natural experiences which is one reason why it is illegal to interfere with a swan's nest in any way.

How many eggs usually hatch out and how many of the cygnets usually survive to adulthood?
Swans hatch up to 10 eggs at a time with the expectation of losing several of them. It is not uncommon for all the cygnets to be lost to predators, nor is it uncommon for most of them to survive - it all depends on the location and the natural protection afforded them. As the parents grow older they learn from the experience of previous years.

Do swans breed throughout their lives?
Yes, though the number of eggs laid each year tends to decrease with time.

How long do the cygnets stay with their parents?
Typically 6 months.

Is it normal for the parents to be chasing their cygnets once they're several months old?
Absolutely. Once the cygnets are old enough to look after themselves the parents cut the parental ties with them and chase them away, sometimes quite aggressively.

Where do cygnets go when they leave their parents?
They normally join the first flock of swans they encounter where they usually stay until they mature when about 4 years old.

Is it true that swans mate for life?
As a general rule this is true. If a mate is lost then the surviving mate will go through a grieving process like humans do, after which it will either stay where it is on its own, fly off and find a new stretch of water to live on (where a new mate may fly in and join it) or fly off and re-join a flock.

How long do swans normally live?
In the wild, with all the hazards they have to live with (vandals, pollution, dogs, mink, overhead cables, bridges, pylons, lead poisoning, fishing-tackle injuries etc), an average lifespan would be 12 years. In a protected environment this figure can reach 30 years.

Do swans moult?
Yes - typically in July or August each year, during which time they are unable to fly. Breeding pairs do not moult at the same time as they, and any offspring, would be too vulnerable to attack. They are unable to fly for approximately 6 weeks from the time that they lose their flight feathers to the time they have grown new ones.

Can swans take off from land?
Yes, but they need at least 30 yards to become airborne and the same again to reach a safe height to clear surrounding obstructions such as houses.

Do swans bite?
Not as such as they don't have teeth, but they can hiss and peck which can cause some discomfort if the skin gets pinched.

Is it true that a swan's wing can break your arm?
Yes, but only in exceptional cases. If a wing in full span and velocity were to hit a weak-boned person (such as a child or an elderly person) then it is theoretically possible. In reality it is almost unheard of and is never used as a form of attack as swans are a defensive bird. The only time they become aggressive is when they are protecting their nesting ground or cygnets when they will chase off intruders, be they other swans, geese or humans who get too close.

Is it true that all mute swans in the UK are owned by the Queen?
Yes, she has the prerogative right of ownership for all the mute swans in England and Wales.
What is Swan Upping?
Swan Upping is the annual census of the swan population on stretches of the River Thames in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire which takes place during the third week of July each year.

Is it true that harming a swan in any way is a criminal offence?
Yes, and prosecutions are becoming more commonplace now that conviction precedents have been set. It is also a criminal offence to interfere with nesting swans in any way - they cannot be moved if the location of the nest is inconvenient for whatever reason.

What are the biggest threats to swans?
In addition to the natural threats they face from foxes, mink & botulism, modern society has added several more such as pollution, vandalism, uncontrolled dogs, fishing-tackle and lead poisoning, as well as unmarked pylons, overhead cables & bridges.

How can you tell the male from the female?
Whilst juveniles this is only really possible by veterinary inspection. However, once they have matured (about 4 years old) there is normally a marked difference in size (males are bigger) and, in the case of mute swans, the black fleshy knob at the base of the beak is larger in the male.
Do swans sleep on land or water?
Both. They can sleep standing on one leg or whilst floating, usually with their heads tucked back under a wing.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Having walked by the empty library display board for the past week, I decided to call in and find out if this week was also available for display - they said YES !

So this afternoon I hung all my display photos for all to see, they will be on show for the next 2 weeks, so plenty of time to have a peep.

I'm sure there will be some shots to please everyone, about 60 new photo's and some from last year which are worthy of another showing.

Today was a beautiful sunny day, after an excursion up to the railway bridge the Swans returned yet again to the nest for a bit of tidying up.

The goosander was also sunning and preening beside the swans nest, and was given the eyeball by the pen !

Other creatures were also around, and I got a few pics of a weasel running around the rivers edge behind the seamans hall. It was incredidbly fast and I only managed one still shot since it was constantly on the move ! (see below )

I was also given a herald newspaper cutting by someone who thought I should be getting some credit for all the feeding and care I have given the Swans. It seems someone over in Oban is looking after some swans and has opened a bank account for them !

I dont believe in something for nothing, therefore am quite happy for people to buy my Calendars when they come on stream again. Any profit from these will be used exclusively for the feeding and care of the Swans and island habitat.

Some of the best photo shots on display will be included in next years Calendar !

Since the Swans are likely to be long term residents it's important they get fed properly when they need it. The river and shoreline will provide weed from about April to October, but the Nairn is a fast flowing river and has limited weed growth, and none at all during the winter.

Can I again remind people that white bread and stale and mouldy bread, is poisonous to Swans and ducks - please dont give them any !

Nest Inspection

Today I was glad to feel that damn cold wind abating a little, don't think were going to feel spring like until the wind changes direction though. Tide is rising and as I said in the last post, I got a chance to collect the remaining litter from the harbour, and also some along the riverside. Was good to see the swans inspecting the island nest site, obviously not long before they start mating again, a bit of mild weather should start them off.

I finished the last of the photo printing tonight, so should be all set for the library display next week.