Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Mute Swans of Newfoundland

Before I download all of my new whale pictures, I decided to flip through shots that I had planned to post and clear up some space for the new shots on my old computer.

Among the pleasures of bird watching this summer is the routine encounter with Mute Swans around the city of St. John's. I had thought that these swans were gifted by Queen Elizabeth II, but it seems that is not the case.  Researching their origin took more time than I anticipated. I'm sure there must be a historian in town that knows the full story down through the years.

 It seems that there were two Mute Swans released on the pond in Bowring Park in the early 1940s but they didn't survive due to roving dogs.

In 1946 Harry Hamlyn, Bowring Park Superintendent at the time, travelled to England and acquired six Mute Swans (three males and three females) from King George. It seems the acquisition was made possible by Cyril Bowring. I don't know what that means. Did he fund them? Did he have connections? Someone knows, I'm sure. My reading tells me that the Monarch owns all the Mute Swans and they have been given to many different locations over the years. Did we eventually have some given to the park?
 It seems that the birds of the 1940s were not reproducing well and there was concern that they would die off. I couldn't find any info beyond this.

Now, the last time that I saw all of the swans together in the winter quarters at Bowring Park, I counted nine. Since it is thought that the early swans in the park were all genetically related which led to the poor breeding, where did the new line come from?
Two years ago a pair of Mute Swans had two young ones on the pond at the park. These birds are breeding so well now that it is a practice to oil the eggs shortly after laying to prevent them from hatching. However, that doesn't prevent the birds from carrying out their breeding rituals until the park staff remove the eggs and dismantle the nest. That is really sad after watching the pair care for the eggs and each other during the incubation period.
This year a pair of swans released on Virginia Lake managed to have four young. Was this by design or was it because the park couldn't find the nest? With these four new swans added to the count, there should be 13 Mute Swans in the city.

Only a couple of years back, one Mute Swan was given to Corner Brook to replace one of their swans that perished. Whether there are swans in any other community in the province, I don't know.

One never grows tired of watching these beautiful birds. However, the pictures that I chose to share today speak more to their behaviour than to their looks.  The first three photos show a male swan grooming. He starts in an upright position and within moments it folded itself down until it was almost flat.

The fourth photo shows a Mute Swan racing to get in on the food being offered at the wharf at Kenny's Pond. It was amazing how much speed it attained as it lowered its head between its wings and seemed to use the wings as sails as it propelled itself with its big feet under water.

The last image speaks for itself. While watching this pair, the male was cleaning up the area. He picked up a few pieces of paper trash and moved them out of the house to make the area more tidy. The absolute best time to photograph these birds is during breeding season. It is then that they often fluff up their wings and bloat up the body to look huge. Once the breeding season passes, they seem to shrink in size.

I will continue to try to gather info about the history of the Mute Swans in NL.

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