Mute Swans (Cygnus Olor)
The bird that once graced the tables of medieval banquets is now protected by law from this fate. However, in some parts of the Fens, we have turned that clocks back to those medieval times.
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Swans seem to be one of the overlooked birds in the UK, yet they are one of the most stunning birds to watch and photograph, I've spent many hours with these beautiful birds and often just sit and watch them live their crazy lives. They can be the most chilled out birds one minute and the most aggressive the next with such size and power on show. Cobs (males) will often chase birds across large lakes in springtime, for me it's hilarious to watch and photograph.
The Mute Swan is one of the most easily recognisable of the British birds. The adult's white plumage is pure white and thickly feathered neck is long and curves in a graceful "S" shape. The head is small with a down-pointed, orange-red beak tipped with a black nail, and there is a black knob over the nostrils at the base of the bill; this knob is more pronounced on the males (Cob) then the female (Pen) and most evident in spring. They can be seen all year round in the UK.
The swans use their long necks to feed on underwater plants; pondweed and other aquatic plants. They also eat algae, and shore plants and on odd occasions will eat insects and fish. When their young hatch and if you are lucky, you will see the cygnets watch their parents, and will often try and copy with some funny results; they may put their heads under the water and kick their little legs.
When observing the adults and especially the cygnets, be very aware of their lives, let them be themselves, and you will be rewarded with the power and beauty but trying to force yourself into their lives, and you will not see them at their best. The adults won't tolerate dogs around their young so keep your pets away from the swans, and they will defend the cygnets no matter what. If you approach carefully and spend time with them, they will let you much closer and within 10 feet often. Always remember it is about them and not you or your camera if you are photographing them.
Mute swans pair up, often in the autumn, when they are between two and four years old. In early spring the cob selects a nest site close to the water's edge and well away from other nests. The nests are large and often made from old dead reeds and other grasses with a thin layer of down within the nest.
The breeding season is also the time to watch the male (Cob) strength and power, no matter the size of the bird, a person walking their dog or the person themselves they will become a target for the male to defend his territory. I have sat for hours watching the male chasing greylag geese around a massive lake, only to turn on someone walking their dog. But never once seemed bothered about me, It is almost if the birds knew who I was! The same birds would often see me throughout the year, and over three years, so I am not sure if they can recognise a persons face.
Swans have no severe natural predators, although foxes and pike (species of carnivorous fish) will sometimes take unguarded cygnets. The main threat comes from man's greed with increasing encroachment on its natural, but here in the Cambridgeshire Fens we have seen an increase in the killing of swans, often crossbows and air rifles are used by sick individuals. Remember these birds will often pair for life and live for 15 years.
The joy of spending time with birds like this, You get to see the countryside with all its nature, as you will be aware if you have taken a look at my website you will know I get to see of a lot of different kinds of subjects. It is a life long interest and nothing to do with the camera, that has tagged along for the ride.
For you photographers out there, I use a Canon 7d Mk 2 with the 100-400 Mk 2 L lens, with AV or manual mode used only, Have never used full auto in my life, AV offers reliable control over aperture and exposure. I often use manual WB like all my photography. 99% of my shots are using either single spot or group AFP depending on the distance to the subjects.
For smaller birds, sparrow size, I often use my homemade hide and will be around 4 feet from the birds, to get the best from all birds and nature is to understand it before you photograph it if you point and shoot you will never see their natural side.
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