I'm a lover of nature and wildlife. To me all life is precious; I find nothing is more wondrous than nature itself.
Intro to Mistral the Swan
My wife was born in Dovercourt, Essex, England; and her parents retired there. So when we were first married we used to have a free summer holiday each year by staying with my in-laws, who owned a beach hut which we used during the week.
One prominent feature of Dovercourt is its family of swans; who we made a point of visiting each day we past the boating lake. We photographed and filmed the swans, and quite by chance on our list visit happened to meet Eileen Tyrer who played a major role in the welfare of the Dovervourt swans.
Since our chance meeting we kept in touch, and she kept us updated on the remarkable story of Mistral; a very special visitor to Dovercourt.
Below is a transcript of the letters from Eileen, in which she tells ‘The Mistral Story”, as it happens.
Mistral the Swan: Dovercourt, Essex, England
The Mistral Story…
As told by Patroller Eileen Tyrer, Chair. HEAT (Harwich Environmental Action Team)
Mistral, named because she came to the Harwich area (Essex) in the windy month of March 1999, has had a sad and chequered life. She has had two mates and both were killed in another part of Dovercourt. So the Harwich Environmental Action Team (HEAT), who had been caring for her for over two years, moved her in the summer of 2001 to the ponds in Dovercourt for her own safety. The Harwich Environmental Action Team were then looking forward to the day when she may finally take off with her family and hopefully find another mate. HEAT had most of the local population watching over her after they informed the residents of her plight.
This is the true story of Mistral (a mute swan) told as it unfolds by Eileen from HEAT. Since her move to the Dovercourt ponds in 2001 Mistral has had four further mates, and has been involved with Freedom (a Hooper swan) in two love triangles.
Dovercourt Boating Lake, England
Harwich Environmental Action Team
We started in 1996, when most of our original members were part of the Beach Hut and Seafront Users Association, as a direct result of pollution on our beaches from sewerage. Originally, all we wished to do was prevent the pollution from Anglia Water Ltd, but we learnt so much as we went that we were asked to advise members of the environmental select committee on the issue of Sewage Pollution on the nations beaches and the treatments needed to prevent problems. Through our persistence the pipes were repaired at Harwich, an outlet pipe was removed at Dovercourt West End beach and a grid that had been removed illegally for 17 years, was put back on and cleaned.
It was then that we decided to continue with the environmental group but diversify into other issues for our area. This is just a little of what we have achieved:
- We joined with Clacton Jubilee Rotary Club during the war in Kosovo and sent many containers of clothes, bedding, children's items and building materials to the Mother Theresa Rescue Centre in Kosovo.
- We helped advise on the Gypsy Lane development.
- We have conducted clean up's of Allfield's area, the Hangings area, various local beaches, parts of the town centre, parts of Jaywick and the boating lake. D We achieved Grade 11 listing for The Grange Sixth Form Centre.
- We campaigned for a swan ramp at the boating lake to prevent problems when the District Council lowered the water in winter.
- We campaigned for a Public Inquiry into the Bathside Bay development so that local issues could be addressed, including lighting, noise, pollution, and road and rail access, not only to protect the natural environment but also to give local people more protection.
- We worked with many organisations and residents throughout the inquiry ensuring that they had enough funding for all the information that was required.
- We were heavily involved with the rescue and transportation of oiled birds during the last major oil spill, which lasted over 3 weeks.
- We work alongside local rescue centres, police, RSPCA, Swan Rescue at Salcott, and have helped in the rescue wildlife, including swans, foxes, seals, porpoise, various birds and mammals. This year alone we have rescued, treated, rehabilitated and released 34 Swans.
We now feel it is time to push for new members and/or supporters to continue this undervalued work to help our local community, environment and wildlife. It really is time to become a supporter or if you wish an active member it’s up to you.
HEAT provided the town with an up-date on Mistral and her cygnets, as so many people have shown such a great interest in them, and they have given a great many people a lot of pleasure, especially the many visitors to the area. They have become quite celebrities. HEAT would like to thank all the people who have fed and kept an eye on Mistral and her cygnets on the ponds at Dovercourt. They have grown into five lovely young swans and are flying extremely well now; they can often be seen taking off together and returning late in the afternoon:
I am sure everyone has noticed that there are now two adult swans on the ponds, and you have all been wondering about the extra adult. We are pleased to announce that Mistral has another mate; he came in on the week of October 11th 2001 so we decided to call him Liberty. He is an extremely handsome creature, quite feisty and is already standing guard if Mistral is eating.
Obviously Mistral and Liberty will now try to discourage the cygnets to stay in the area and will often be seen chasing them away. This is a perfectly natural thing for adult swans to do prior to the next breeding season. Eventually the time will come when they will all leave to find their own territory and a mate. Until that time comes it will not hurt to feed them, including of course Mistral and Liberty, especially as the weather is getting colder and it may become difficult for them to find food. We hope that Mistral and Liberty will have a family next year, possibly in the same area; we will just have to wait and see what they will decide to do, only time will tell.
The Arrival of Freedom
May 2002 Update
With regards to Mistral and Liberty, they eventually departed, the babies going one by one too pastures new. Mistral and Liberty disappeared for a while then turned up on and off for quite a while, but a much older male turned up on the scene and seemed to be chasing Liberty off. They all disappeared again for a long time, and then Mistral reappeared on the dikes with the older male. Mistral has always built her nest on the inner pond on Hammertons land, which she can get to from the dike in West End Lane.
In January 2002 three Hooper Swans turned up which is quite unusual. Eileen from HEAT had never seen one before let alone three. One of them disappeared quite quickly. The other two hung round Mistral and her new mate, but one Hooper was always trying to chase the other Hooper away, eventually he got the message and left. You cannot tell the sex of a Hooper like you can our native mute swans unless you turn them upside down, not something to be recommended.
The remaining Hooper was forever trying to chase Mistral and she seemed to be afraid of him. Mistral would constantly put her new mate (Liberty) or even Eileen between her and the Hooper. She did wonder if it was a female as Mistral’s new mate seemed to tolerate it, although he had got hold of its neck on several occasions in a very half-hearted way, but the Hooper stood its ground and would then give forth an incredible call, this went on for several weeks. Eileen commented that it sounded more like a chicken that was being strangled. HEAT contacted the swan rescue people and informed them of what was happening. The Hooper should have been flying off to Scandinavian countries or even the Baltic area from where they originally come - they normally only turn up in the Scotland area in the winter.
A Tragic Accident (Liberty)
Freedom Takes Over
Eileen received a call from the Swan Rescue asking if she would check out the dikes as a swan had been reported dead and its mate was standing over it very distressed. It was about 9 p.m. and quite dark, she called a couple of HEAT members and arranged to meet them down there. They were armed with a powerful torch; and searched along the dikes but no luck. So they tried the pond on Hammertons land, which is very remote and extremely rough going. When they finally arrived they swept the pond with the torch beam and suddenly spotted it. The Swan was in the water lying with its neck back towards its wings as if asleep. One member hung on to Eileen while she reached to pull the swan in, after a bit of a struggle they managed to get him. They laid him on the grass and inspected him by torchlight. They could find no evidence of foul play and no sign of blood so he had not been in a fight. It looked as if he had just gone to sleep and died. On inspection they found a hole in the web of his feet, which to their horror and fears confirmed its identity as Mistrals new mate. They couldn’t see Mistral or the Hooper and shining a torch on her now as it was so dark would only stress her out even more. They rang the Swan Rescue as soon as I reached home with the swan in their car and voiced their fears about the Hooper still being around and Mistral now on her own again.
The following day, early in the morning about 4.30 am, Eileen took her dogs for a quick walk then made her way to the pond again. On arriving she could see Mistral on a very large nest on the island in the middle of the pond and to her horror the Hooper was still hanging around. She rang the Swan Rescue and discussed the problem of Mistral and the Hooper – It was decided to monitor the situation. The following day when Eileen arrived at the pond early in the morning to her horror the Hooper stood over Mistral and for a while she could not tell if Mistral was alive or dead - you can imagine her relief to see Mistral suddenly move. They were still not sure how the Hooper would behave with Mistral and if she had laid any eggs would they be by her old mate which, was a Mute Swan or had she been mated by the Hooper - only time was going to tell.
The swans have now been monitored on a daily for several weeks, and the Hooper seems to have taken on the duty of protecting Mistral. He has even repaired the nest on a regular basis and gets quite upset if other swans, seagulls and ducks fly overhead, or they get to close. On Saturday 18th May Mistral was in the water with her newly hatched chicks - There were six of them but HEAT are still unable to tell who the father is. The Hooper was standing guard and Mistral and the babies seemed un-perturbed by his presence. They have been watched everyday now and the Hooper is very protective of mother and babies. I have since learned that Mistral’s old mate had taken off from the pond and had come down to land, over shot and missed the water. We can only assume that he injured himself internally when he landed. With regards to the Hooper swans HEAT have been told that someone on Horsea Island had a tame pair of Hooper’s and they bred and produced young. It has been suggested that they had spoken about shooting the young but this is only hearsay, I don’t suppose we will ever really know. HEAT has decided to call the Hooper “Freedom” and they hope he survives, as Mistral seems to be so un-lucky with her mates.
I watched over Mistral, Freedom, and the young cygnets in the coming months. One of the cygnets was deformed, but seemed able to eat however, it did lag behind the others I spoke with Sue about that and although it was hard to watch it struggle it was obviously better to let it be with its family. Unfortunately the next day the little disabled cygnet disappeared, we wondered if it was as a result of the large pike that is in the bigger dike, as they had gone through to that area briefly. I looked everywhere, but there has been no sign of it. Mistral and Freedom have gone back to the Hammerton pond so perhaps they knew there is a large pike in the area and have decided to keep to the relatively safer pond. Throughout the months that followed, the remaining cygnets grew well I feed them every morning. Mistral came close to me with them, but Freedom always stayed at least ten feet away he has however, been a really good father to them all.
I have also had an RSPB friend have a look at them and he has taken photos which were sent off to a Dr Reece, but still none of us are really sure if they are Hybrids, which is what they would be if they were from Freedom. Sometimes, when they were together, one or two of them seemed to hold their head, neck and their mouth slightly open in the same way as Freedom (the Hooper). Perhaps they are his, only time would tell, but they also had a strong likeness to our native breed the Mute (Mistral). We may never really know, unless there is something that is quite distinct that will show up when they finally reach adulthood and turn white.
Two of the cygnets have now left; one was seen swimming towards the Stour. The other three cygnets are still with the Hooper Swan (Freedom) on the yacht pond.
Braveheart: A New Rival for Freedom
A Mute swan has been making advances to Mistral on the yacht pond and she now seems to have left Freedom. Mistral has been seen doing the love dance with this new male on the dike I have fed her on several occasions in this vicinity. Sometimes Freedom turns up and chases the other male away, but he never goes too far away and at every opportunity he is back again with Mistral. I am afraid she does seem to have the reputation of being a bit of an Essex girl! (You know intelligent, perfect manners, well dressed and very friendly).
Recently the police called Clacton Swan rescue to the dike when a fisherman first spotted that Mistral had a hook and line in her neck. This was a great shame; as I could have caught her so quickly because she would, by this time, stand next to me. They were unable to catch her with nets and ropes and finally left and called Sue Morgan. Sue went to the dike, but knew immediately it was impossible to even try to catch, Mistral she was so spooked by the previous attempt. Sue called to tell me, and to say the hook was not at present in any way life threatening, I monitored her very closely every day for several weeks and was unable to get anywhere near her, because she was now so frightened of humans. Last week I became concerned as the line attached to the hook, although not long had wound itself around her neck. I went home and was about to ring Sue when the phone rang and she was on the line, I am sure she must be telepathic.
Sue had arranged for the South Essex Wildlife Hospital in Grays to come down as they were doing several jobs for Sue in the area. Craig and Miles arrived at mine and we went straight to the dike. Craig immediately went down towards Mistral and sat very quietly feeding her, but still she would not come too close. Miles sat on the bank waiting to give help when necessary. Craig then decided to hide behind a clump of reeds in an attempt to catch her. Suddenly there was a loud splash, Craig was in the water and had surprised Mistral by jumping over the top of her and so blocking her means of escape. Miles and I ran towards him, he was by this time holding Mistral and passed her to Miles, we very quickly carried her up the bank to the waiting wildlife ambulance. Craig was, by this time, feeling rather cold after jumping in the water, and quickly put some more warm clothes on, before getting the hook out. Miles held Mistral, while I held her beak and neck up in the air so Craig could see what he was dealing with. In a short while the hook was out, she was given a shot of antibiotics and a ring put on her leg, not the metal sort though. It was the type that’s put on your wrist when you go into hospital only larger, it should stay on her leg for about three years. When everything was done it was time to set her free, Miles took her down to the dike and she was happy to join the new man in her life but not very pleased with us at capturing her in the first place.
We then departed quickly to the Hammerton pond where another swan had a hook and line in its neck, but nowhere near the length of Mistrals and definitely not life threatening. Unfortunately Craig and Miles were not so lucky with this particular Cob. After chasing him in a canoe several times around the pond he finally had enough of them and took of towards the sea. Still not to worry, he was there the next day when I went to check on him, and I will continue to monitor him, hopefully when he goes into moult next year Craig and Miles will be back, but we won’t breath a word to the swans. Harwich Environmental Action Team (HEAT) gave a donation to the South Essex Wildlife Hospital as we cannot thank them enough for all that they did for Mistral, I am sure she does appreciate it in her own way.
As for Mistral she is still with her new mate, and although I am feeding them both every day, she is still not coming too close, but then who can blame her. We are now going to have to wait and see what is going to happen in the love triangle and who will win her heart. For the moment the possibly hybrid cygnets, have come back to be with their dad Freedom on the yacht pond and he is still very protective of them. You may notice that one of them has a blue ring on its leg. I, along with help from Janet, removed a hook from its leg, had to give it an injection of antibiotics and the leg ring, before returning it back to Mistral and Freedom when they were on the dike together.
We seem to have gathered a few more swans along the way; I have counted thirty-one, which gave me quite a shock. I believe some of them are last years babies as one in particular will jump out of the pond when I go to feed them, he wants to be hand fed and one of Mistral babies last year would always do that. I can only assume that they tell one another where they might get fed, or is it that ponds that contain the food they need are in short supply. Many ponds are being filled in when building developments are taking place, whatever the reason; they seem to like it here at Dovercourt.
If you want to feed them please give them brown bread, as it is better for them than white. Feeding them also with mixed corn and cooked flaked Barley is a good idea, as it gives them a mixed diet, these can be obtained from the pet shop in Lee Road. I feed them four boxes of this mixture as well as two, sometimes three, loaves of wholemeal bread, and more if it’s cold. Feeding is usually at 6 am sometimes at 4. 30 am depending if I have visits to London Hospitals. You cannot start feeding them in the winter, then miss a few days; it has to be on a regular basis. All our birds and wildlife are under threat from developments all over the country.
Once they are all fed I start my beach hut patrol, whatever the weather, with my two faithful friends Tammy and Blaise, who have waited patiently in the car whilst I have fed all the swans on the yacht pond. We then check on all the huts, right down to the Orwell Terrace area, you can always spot Blaise with her flashing collar; it helps me to see when and where she deposits her toilet. (I happen to be a responsible dog owner who constantly tells irresponsible dog owners to jolly well clear up, as they give all dog walkers a bad name).
We finally start our trek back towards the West End and check again that all beach huts are safe and sound. Once back, with my faithful friends safely in the car, it is off to feed Mistral, her new mate and finally negotiate the Hammerton land to monitor the Swan with the hook in its neck, which is now proving very difficult. I have not got caught by anyone yet, as they move their Tonka Toys full of earth depositing it on all the wildlife in the area, and I am sure you will be as excited as I am that soon we will be seeing caravans and log cabins! What a thought! I do not think the Swans will stand a chance then.
Just give me a thought occasionally, as the wind and rain hammers against your windows in the early hours. I am not too keen on it myself, but I love the early mornings when no one is around. Just me and perhaps, one other dog walker, the moon, stars and the odd fox trundling on his way searching for food. The Swans silently gliding across the ponds gleaming white in the moonlight, those moments are definitely worth throwing myself out of bed every morning, you could always come and join me.
Freedom has now left his young on their own for several days now on the boating lake ponds and has gone back on the dyke to be with Mistral and the other male.
One morning when I was very early at where I usually feed them I could see the new male was on his own. I started to call out "come on come on" then suddenly I could see two white swans gliding towards me in the darkness it was Mistral and Freedom. Mistral came in closer to be fed with the other male while Freedom stayed further away and I threw food out to him. The new male is wary of Freedom but they seem to tolerate each other at a distance, we shall just have to wait and see what develops.
Freedom the Hooper swan is really chasing off the male Mute swan that Mistral went with, in a very aggressive way. He is also getting extremely vocal and can be heard quite a distance away.
Oil Threatens Swans
I have been very busy rescuing Guillemots that have come in very oiled. My coat gets taken off and thrown over the birds to stop them escaping back into the sea, the trouble is it always seems to manage to fall into a muddy puddle. I am left with a struggling bird that wants to attack me, a damp coat which I am unable to put on, and a long cold walk back to my car. Still if they survive it is well worth it. I take them to Wildlife Hospital at Thorrington near Colchester then they are eventually sent down to an RSPCA centre in Hasting before finally being released. We had two different oil spills early in the year in our area going up the rivers Orwell and Stour as well as other oil on a three-mile stretch of our coastline. Many birds have been affected especially the swans a great many are completely black with oil which is burning their eyes - it is terrible. Our group was out rescuing and transporting the swans to the rescue centre for treatment every single day for nearly a fortnight. We were all very tired and exhausted but there were still more swans we were trying to catch along with the smaller seabirds. Alan has been answering the phone non-stop, Stephanie has been helping an enormous amount on the phone as well as coming out with us and she was over the moon when she caught her first swan.
Mistral and Freedom are fine though, but still with the other male in tow. I have been feeding all the swans on the ponds to keep them from flying into the oil and so far it has worked. The update on Mistral this spring is she has made a nest and is now sitting on it permanently with Freedom guarding her. He has pushed her chosen own species of Mute Swan out, although he is still hanging around which is rather sad. The Mute Swan has most probably mated with Mistral that is why he is still around but he is very frightened of Freedom the Hooper Swan as they can be quite fierce. I have spoken to Sue Morgan of Swan Rescue about Freedom and we think he should really be with his own species. The trouble is he does not moult the same time as our native Mute. Our native swan moults now, so he cannot fly away but has to remain with the swan he has bred with to look after her and the cygnets. The Hooper we believe moults in October. It maybe decided to try and catch him when he is in moult then take him to an area of Norfolk where they have wild Hooper Swans as well as migrating ones that come at certain times of the year. He would then hopefully be with his own kind and able to breed. He may even learn to migrate, which might be a lot kinder to him and Mistral in the long term. If we are able to catch him about October time any cygnets would be quite grown up and reasonably able to take care of themselves with their mother still around. Again if the Mute, that we think mated with her, is still around he may well take over looking after the cygnets. Its all obviously supposition on our part, but we feel we ought to do something about him.
Thinking on the long-term problem, even if Freedom gets rid of the Mute Swan that is hanging around now or the Mute gets fed up and leave on his own accord, which is highly unlikely. The same thing will happen again next mating season. Mistral will obviously want her own species to mate with and naturally performing the love dance that Mute Swans do together will be part of her ritual. We, and any new Mute that comes on the scene, will have the same problem with Freedom. We all feel quite sorry for Freedom, Mistral and any Mute that comes along as their problem was not of their making but of some stupid person trying to keep wild Hooper swans even if they have been bred in captivity its kinder to get them back into the wild to be free. Some of Mistral’s last year’s babies can be seen on the Yacht/Boating Lake, two of them had rings put on their legs when fishing hooks were removed from them, they have grown into beautiful swans.
These pictures, taken July show Mistral with her young and the two males still pursuing her. The photos show Freedom, the Whooper swan (with the yellow beak) and a Mute swan (Braveheart) from her own breed (the orange beak).
The Plight of Wonder (One of Mistral's Young)
We have been extremely busy with swan rescuing and fighting the development of Bathside Bay at Harwich into a gigantic container port. So just a few problems to keep us out of mischief! Mistral has had a few problems this year. We are pretty sure she has mated with the Mute and the cygnets are his, we have named him Braveheart because of his determination to stick with her, even though he is being constantly hassled by Freedom. Braveheart never gives in and will keep going however ill he feels definitely a very determined character.
Mistral built her nest on the dyke this time, on the opposite bank to where I feed them, and in front of a large bramble bush, which gave her some protection. I had been keeping a regular eye on them, on this particular morning I noticed Freedom staring over her head at the Bramble bush. I decided that after walking the dogs I would investigate what was wrong. To get to the back of the Bramble and her nest, you have to go through some iron gates in West End Lane on to the inner Hammerton land where Mistral used to nest. Her nesting place in this pond we think has been taken over by one of her previous young, it is obvious that it is her first brood she just had three cygnets but one was quite poorly and died very quickly her remaining cygnets are doing very well.
I fed them on this particular morning, and then two young fishermen I knew came and told me that two young boys who were camping over the other side of the pond were hassling the swans. I decided I would check out Mistral first on arriving at the nest, which I could just see. I found a fishing ‘keepers’ net rammed into the Bramble and on leaning over I was also able to see a red and yellow dinghy right next to the nest. There was no way I could reach this so I returned to the young fishermen asked them about the dinghy. They had already said, they had seen the two boys going up to the swan’s nest on the Hammerton pond and then finding the dinghy near the nest on the dyke did not look good.
I made my way towards the boy’s camp, one of the boys was outside the tent, the other boy would not come out until I threaten to dismantle the tent on him. He finally gave in, as soon as I saw him I recognised him. I had trouble with both of them last year throwing rocks and rubbish into the pond. I warned them to stay away from the swans as they are protected and it is a five thousand-pound fine and six months in prison hoping this would deter them. The following day a young chap called Gary who had moved from London to live here had previously helped me in rescuing a swan off the yacht pond. He offered to try and hook the dinghy out of the way of the nest, and would go early the next morning. The following day I was at the yacht pond feeding the previous year’s young when Gary passed by to try and get the dinghy. It was not long before he returned holding something in his hand and no dinghy in sight it was unfortunately a dead baby cygnet.
Gary informed me the dinghy and the keepers net had gone and there was a large piece of fencing, which looked like an oversized ladder thrown over the bramble, which had landed on the nest. Mistral had had eight cygnets Gary found only one dead but one was also missing, as there was only six cygnets left. I informed the police wildlife officer and put a piece in the paper making sure we made a point of mentioning the red and yellow dinghy but there was not much else we could do. To a certain extent this has worked as it has kept these two boys away from the area and they know I am on the lookout for them. Immediately after the ladder going on the nest and eventually when Mistral started bringing her remaining cygnets to our feeding place we noticed she was caught up with fishing line. It took us two whole days with three kayaks and six people on the bank to separate her from her young and finally catch her. I removed the hook and line, which was just below her wing then injected her with antibiotics and then released her. From then on she was monitored but would not put her leg down or stand on it which seemed rather odd as when we released her we thought it would only be two days before the leg would go back down. This went on for another few weeks; we hoped it would eventually improve but no such luck. We then spotted another fishing line attached to her other leg, it was decided we would have to catch her again, unfortunately the lads with the kayaks were not available. My friend Janet and I decided to try and catch Mistral, as she seemed to be going downhill fast. We tried the first time in the area where she is fed but she is always aware of what we are about to do, I am sure she can read our minds.
We went down again later on in the afternoon Mistral and Freedom were on the other side of the bank; Freedom was standing guard, while Braveheart was with the cygnets further up the dyke. We made the long trek round to get behind her on the other bank Janet and I both had Swan hooks. We stopped half way there to plan what we would do, as we were not able to talk as we neared them, as Freedom would warn her we were coming. We decided to split up and advance in an arrow movement Janet going in on one side a split second before me to attract Freedom to her while I crept in behind to grab Mistral. We operated by silent hand signals and on the count of three we moved in, I managed to get the hook round her neck but she is so clever she twists her neck a certain way and gets out of the hook; thankfully not before I had grabbed her round the neck with my other hand.
I quickly lifted her away from the area with Janet to join her husband Terry who we had left waiting with all of the medical equipment we might need. Janet held Mistral on the ground while I pulled the leg out which had the line on it. Looking at the hook we were unable to tell if it was barbed and we were unable to push the hook through, as it was right near the bone. I looked at the other leg, which had also been bothering her and both Janet and I compared the sizes of the legs and both thought it was definitely swollen. We had no option but to remove her, we cut the piece of line off the hook. Then protecting the leg with the hook in it we tied them together with a stocking cut the corner off a pillowcase and pulled the pillowcase over her head securing the wings so she was unable to hurt herself. Mistral was then, carried by Janet out through the iron gates avoiding Freedom, Braveheart and the Cygnets so as not to upset her and them. I went the other way to get to my car taking some of the gear with me; we all met back at my car where Mistral was put in the back. I drove home where she was transferred immediately still in the pillowcase to a large cage, which I then covered with a cloth to darken the area to calm her down.
I had rung Sue Morgan to expect me, and so the Journey begun to Salcott passing the Tiptree museum and tearoom where they make lovely Tiptree jam its yummy. Not long afterwards we arrived at Sue’s; Mistral was taken from the cage and the legs un-tied for Sue to look at. Having looked at the hook it was decided it was not barbed and with a bit of struggle and a pair of pliers the hook was removed. Sue looked at the other leg and could see it was swollen but decided to check to see if there was fluid in the leg inserting a needle to see if she was able to draw fluid out, none appeared. After much deliberation between us it was decided it could be an old injury, which we now believe was caused by the boys throwing the fencing on to the nest this would account for why her leg was held up continuously. Sue injected her with antibiotics and pain relief hoping this would encourage her to put her leg down.
Had Mistral not had young cygnets Sue would have kept her there but to take her away from her young is not good. Mistral was put back in the cage this time with her legs un-tied for the journey home. I stopped on the way just before I joined the A12 to ring Janet to see if she would like to see her released I left a message on the answer phone saying I would ring when I got home. On reaching home I rang Janet and we arranged to meet down at the dyke, it was not long after I arrived that Janet turned up. We looked down the dyke to the other end, from the path up above and could see the Whooper Freedom, Braveheart the Mute and all the Cygnets with necks raised high searching for Mistral with intermittent calls for her, hoping she would answer. We started down the path towards the bank, I warned Janet to get the scissors ready to cut the pillowcase off. Mistral started to look around recognising the area; she started to struggle by this time we were nearly near the bank when suddenly she gave a call. All of a sudden Braveheart gave an answering call and practically flew on top of the water, closely followed by Freedom and the cygnets all chattering together. Janet was quickly there with the scissors to split the pillowcase so we could free her. Mistral went straight into the water chattering to her cygnets, Braveheart and Freedom it was a wonderful sight to see, and with the night drawing in a mist on the water it was really quite magical. Since then we have monitored her and her young regularly. Mistral eventually got her foot down and now walks out of the pond but she is very wary of people as she has been caught so many times.
Since then two of the cygnets at different times got caught in fishing line but I was able to free them both. One only just recently unfortunately had a breathing problem, which is caused by mouldy bread, or dead bate, which sinks to the bottom, the swans then ingest this and it causes something called Aspergillis if it is caught in time they can be saved. We tried for several days to catch the cygnet but by the time we caught it although it was treated at Sue’s it rallied but then died. We are now down to five cygnets.
We have just acquired three canoes by Janet going on the BBC Radio Essex help-line one canoe has gone straight to Sue. We have just picked up the other two but have got to sort out people to go in them. I think Janet and I are getting a bit too old although I am pretty sure we will have a sneaky go sometime. I have just had a call from the police as another cygnet on the dyke has line coming from the mouth; so will have to dash now. I had the canoe out with Gary in the morning but you really need two, if you chase them too much it can cause a virus, which would kill them so we have left them to settle down again. I am going back again at 4.30 p.m. the young man who was fishing on the dyke who had called the police, is called Danielle he has offered to help me, it turns out he trained people in canoes. Janet is coming as well with her sons Ian and Robin who are going to use the other canoe. It’s getting near 4.30 p.m. so must get myself ready to go, I will hopefully get back to this later.
23rd August 2003 - We had tried on Saturday the 9th August, but no luck. We tried again the following day with two canoes occupied by Danny with Janet’s sons Ian and Robin taking it in turns. Each time the cygnets would make for the Hammerton pond to be with Freedom the Whooper, who had gone into hiding, because he was in moult and was worried we were after him. Finally, we caught one of the cygnets, which had a hook in its neck. I could barely see the hook but was informed by the lads in the canoes that they did not think it was the one we wanted. Janet and myself rushed the cygnet back to my car got Sue on the mobile standing by to help us. I eased the hook out of the cygnets’ neck and to my horror the line didn’t. After much consultation with Sue, Janet and I then felt the cygnet’s neck to see if there were any lumps. It was decided to cut the line close to the neck and hope that it would then work its way down to the stomach and dissolve naturally. We administered an antibiotic and vitamin injection, and then made our way down to the dyke to release the cygnet still not a hundred percent sure whether it was the one we needed to get but all the other cygnets were in hiding now with Freedom. There was nothing more we could do but to monitor the situation. It was 2.30 p.m. and getting so hot we decided to pack it in for the day. One of the canoes was put on the top of my car and Janet’s son Ian took the other one; so all of us being rather tired left for home.
I received a phone call that evening from Sandy who also feeds and monitors the swans. She had just returned from the dyke and informed me that she had seen the cygnet and its neck was double in size. It was my worst fear as it meant we would have to catch it again, as it would definitely need an operation. Early next morning I went with trepidation to the dyke wondering if the cygnet had died already but to my amazement he was with Mistral, Braveheart and the other cygnets but would not come anywhere near and refused all food, the lump in his throat was enormous. I fed the others and walked away with my head down wondering how on earth we were going to catch him. Janet, Ian, Robin and Danny were not going to be available all day. As I reached the top of the slope I bumped into Steve who had helped us before, he had just finished his shift of night duty with Trinity and was walking his dog before he went to bed. When I told him the situation with Mistral and Braveheart’s cygnet he immediately said he could help in the afternoon, I breathed a sigh of relief and we parted arranging to meet at 2.30 p.m.
I rang Sandy to see if she was available and was quite relived when she said she was as well her husband Gary. At long last 2.30 p.m. arrived I rang Steve to check that everything was still ok, thankfully it was. We all arrived at the dyke, the canoe was duly taken from the top of my car and we advance down towards the dyke discussing how we would capture him. Steve got in the canoe and I decided we needed someone over on the channel that goes through to the Hammerton pond. Gary offered to go and we waited while he got round there, which is a bit of a trek. I watched him arrive at the channel and position himself. Steve had gone to find the Cygnets and split them from their parents. I was worrying so much as I knew we must not fail. I asked Sandy to look after Steve’s daughter Lauren. It was no good it was just instinct I had to go round to the channel, as Gary to my knowledge had never caught a swan before. I yelled for Steve to give me time and ran as fast as I could, through the narrow pathway catching my leg on brambles as I went. I arrived out of breath got to the opposite side of the channel; I threw the swan hook to Gary as he was up high on the bank and may need it. He armed himself, with the hook while I crouched down low near the entrance from the channel to the Hammerton pond. The water in the channel was low and there came a point where the cygnets would for a brief moment have to get out of the water and walk a couple of feet before reaching the deeper water of the Hammerton pond where they would be able to swim.
Suddenly Gary whispered he could see them coming. They were on their way to be with Freedom just as I thought they would. As the first one came into sight Gary slightly moved his hook I mouthed quietly to him not to move. The first cygnet looked at him and was deciding whether to turn round but then decided Gary was not a threat and continued on not seeing me slightly ahead. We counted quietly to ourselves as the first one stood up out of the water and walked towards the deeper water of the Hammerton pond. Then came number two followed by number three and four finally our injured cygnet was in sight. Numbers one and two had already started to go through the reeds into the pond followed by three and four. I motioned to Gary to wait and suddenly our injured cygnet stood up. He started to walk slowly towards the deeper water. I moved with one quick movement with only one thought in my head that I could not afford to miss capturing him if he was to have any chance of survival. Suddenly he was in my hands and lifted out of the channel. Gary moved at the same time to help me up the bank. We stopped at the top, not believing how lucky we had been; to catch him without stressing him in anyway was just to brilliant for words. We started back to join the others, Gary helping me over a deep ditch and keeping the brambles away from the cygnet. As we came in sight of the dyke Sandy and Steve’s daughter Lauren spotted us and started running towards us overjoyed we had caught him. I couldn’t see Steve, but my first thought was to get the cygnet to my car. Once we got there Sandy helped to get a pillowcase with the corner cut off over his head to secure his wings. While I held him Gary prepared the injection of antibiotics and vitamins, once I had administered this his legs were then tied back with a stocking to prevent him standing up and hurting himself. While this was all going on Steve turned up with the canoe and I thanked him profusely. He had done a fantastic job of quickly separating them from their parents and driving them towards the Channel then blocking the entrance to stop them coming back. I could have kissed them all for doing such a wonderful job without to much stress to the cygnets; I rang Sue immediately to tell her we had got the cygnet. Once the canoe was on the car, I drove home to transfer him to a large cage. Sue phoned to say she had informed the vet Ben Bennett we were on the way, and to tell him what the cygnet had been given in the way of medication and to inform him of the best anaesthetic to use on the cygnet.
Then it was off to pick up Sandy on our way to Ben’s Practise at Colchester keeping plenty of air flowing through the cage so he was not stressed too much, stopping on the journey to check he was alright. We arrived at the Colne Valley practise and after checking to see if they wanted us to bring the cygnet into the waiting room, which they did. We finally got into see Ben and the cygnet was removed from the cage for Ben to look at. The news was not good. We finally with much reluctance parted from the cygnet leaving him in the very capable hands of Ben and just prayed everything would go well; so all we had to do now was wait. We journeyed home with our conversation full of the poor injured cygnet.
The following morning down at the dyke I apologised to Mistral, Braveheart and the cygnets for removing one of their family. I always feel so dreadful taking a swan or cygnet away from their families so I gave them an extra feed. When I reached home Sue rang to say that Ben was operating on the cygnet this morning, I rang Sandy to let her know and promised I would call when I had more news. It was in the afternoon when Sue rang again saying before you ask the cygnet has come through the operation and is round from the anaesthetic and has stood up. The vet will not release him to Sue until Wednesday, as it was an extremely bad injury. An abscess had developed where the oesophagus had been torn by the hook, which then grew and pushed the hook to the outside of the cygnet’s neck. The neck was also impacted with food, which was rotting as it was unable to pass down to be digested, he was a very lucky cygnet another day and he would not have made it. I phoned Sandy, Danny, Steve and Janet with the good news.
The following Tuesday afternoon Sandy and I took a trip to Sue’s place at Salcott, near Tiptree to see our brave cygnet, which we have named “Wonder”. The reason he has been named this is because it’s a wonder he is alive. Wonder has had one stitch removed to act as a drain just in case the abscess still needs to drain; it should have the others removed in a few days’ time. He is a really lovely cygnet but is a little bit down at the moment. I am sure he is missing his family but he will not be able to return to them as it’s to long now and they would reject him.
I am working out some posters to try and make people and youngsters aware of the dangers to swans and all wildlife when they leave their fishing-line, hooks, plastic-bags and rubbish lying around.
Two of Mistrals cygnets left several weeks before Christmas. The whole family flew on two occasions to the Boating Lake, eventually two of the cygnets stayed there. I would presume that they might be males. It is difficult to tell when they are young but they are often the first ones to leave.
On Boxing Day morning when Eileen went to the Dyke the remaining two cygnets came out to greet her followed by Mistral and Braveheart. Freedom decided to stay in the water where he feels safe. She notice on several occasions that Mistral got hold of one of the cygnets’ neck when he/she tried to get her food. Likely it will not be too long before they will be leaving as well, maybe to join the other two on the Boating lake.
At this precise time there are between seventy to eighty-six swans on the pond to keep fed, a much larger number this year than usual. This is due to the hot summer with no rain in the area, consequently all the grass dried up, which they need for grazing and the water levels dropped in the ponds drying out the weed that they also feed on.
Thankfully there are a fair number of people that feed them on a regular basis, Sandy and Eileen both feed them at different times during the day with mixed corn and flaked cooked barley which they buy by the sack load as well as several loaves of brown bread which gives them a mixed diet rather than just bread all the time.
Mistral is now nesting again, which is quite obscured by the reeds. She has had help building her nest by Freedom and Braveheart. It is quite amazing how they seem to tolerate one another at times then in the next breath Freedom will attack Braveheart, but he always seems prepared for the attack. Her young of a previous year that nested on the Hammerton pond are back again this year in the same place. We will really have to think of some names for them, the female (Pen) has pink feet, which is the polish genetic disorder, the Male is an extremely large (Cob) and very protective of his mate, especially if Freedom is making his usual noise on the dykes.
We have had a few problems with Mistral’s cygnets as well as the Hammerton Pond family. This year so far none of the adult swans have been caught up with fishing line; I just hope I have not spoken too soon. Freedom and Braveheart are still in attendance; Freedom in charge, with Braveheart still hanging around, although I have noticed lately that when they feed Mistral will eventually join Braveheart. Although Mistral lost one of her cygnets soon after they were hatched she was more fortunate than the Hammerton Pond family, who lost three. I am afraid it was Mr Fox I saw him on several occasions but I have to say he was quite beautiful. I surprised him one day down on the dyke just as I was going to feed them; he jumped out in front of me, he had been hiding in the reeds watching Mistral. He didn’t really stand a chance of getting near them, as Freedom is such a good protector.
Freedom is always standing tall with neck out stretched surveying the area and immediately warns of any danger by a sharp call and all of the family makes for the centre of the Dyke. Sometimes when I have been feeding them I have wondered why they suddenly left and have looked around to see what is wrong. It has often been a friend of mine that’s turned up unannounced or a holidaymaker. He knows right away it’s somebody different and they won’t return to feed until they have left.
On one occasion early in the morning they came to feed as usual, I tend to count the cygnets in my mind as they come into feed. That particular morning I had counted as usual got to three and wondered what had happened to number four. Suddenly he appeared from behind the reeds, I breathed a sigh of relief but it was short lived. Number four was badly lined up I gave him time to feel safe and decided I would just have to take a chance to catch him. I had Mistral and Freedom on my left the cygnets were next to me on my right with Braveheart next to them. To get to number four I had to reach over one of the cygnets, I waited till they were immersed in feeding on the corn and flaked cooked barley I had put in the water. Their heads were down, so I took my chance and grabbed it by the neck, within a second all hell broke loose.
I had the cygnet in my arms when suddenly I was hit from behind on my back and my leg it was either Mistral or Freedom, I had turned my back on them to get to number four. I managed to get past Braveheart then turned around to find Mistral and Freedom in hot pursuit following me. I was running up the hill from the dyke, I got to the top near the small car park looked around to see if they were still following me. Mistral was not going to give in, she proceeded to chase me down the lane until I rounded a corner and number four had finally stopped calling her. I waited a while then made my way back to my car to get my swan medical case, unfortunately number four started calling again so back came Mistral. I barely had time to get the car door open and decided in a split second the best thing I could do was to plonk number four on the car seat and drive home. I would at least be able to look at him without being attacked. Had some of my dog walking friends been around I would not have had such a problem. I would have got them to hold their arms out and walk towards Mistral driving her back to the dyke while I dealt with the cygnet but it was not to be. Instead he had a ride in the car and ended up in the sink while we untangled him and took the hook out, it was only thirty minutes before he was once again back with his family. It took me a few more days to gain their trust although Mistral will still hiss every so often just to remind me. My friends had a good laugh when they heard what had happened; they were all wishing someone had been there with a camera.
When Freedom the Hooper goes to attack it is quite different from Mistral and Braveheart our Mute swans. Freedom hold his wings out completely straight, which are very aerodynamic in shape just like concord he will turn his body so he is able to swipe you with his powerful wings. When you consider they have been recorded at flying twenty thousand feet and thousands of miles no wonder he is so strong.
We have noticed one of the cygnets is not holding his wings correctly; they look as if they have dropped and one or two of the feathers are damaged. We can only assume he was caught up by fishing line and when he pulled himself away damaged his left wing. I have spoken to Sue Morgan and sent her photos to have a look at. It does look as if we may have to take him to Sue’s where she will strap the wings back into position with the hope that they may mend; it depends how he heals if he will ever fly. If we were to leave him there unable to fly, eventually the males may kill him as they drive their young away each year, and he would be unable to get away from them, I will let you know how he gets on.
The Hammerton family as I said did not fare so well regarding the fox and have been left with only two cygnets, and they too have had their fair share of fishing lines. My friend Janet who helps on a regular basis has taken hooks out of the cygnets when they were quite tiny. Only last week one was badly lined up, it is not easy to get them on this pond, as the banks are steep and the water quite deep. This particular day Janet was away on holiday when I had the call come in from a lady that feeds them in the afternoon. Unfortunately her husband had seen it caught up in the reeds and released it with the line still attached trailing behind, which means one of the parents or the other cygnet could get their legs entwined in the line get pulled along and even drowned. On top of that they had fed them so there was no way we would get them out of the pond.
I went down at 4 p.m. to size up the situation; I called my nephew Graeme who has helped me on other occasions. Graeme came down to the Hammerton family and we tried for a little while, but no luck. They were just not very hungry; we decided we would meet up again to have one last try that evening. At 6 p.m. we met once again on the edge of the pond with fingers crossed we threw the bread and corn just out of their reach to encourage them to come out. It took about 15 minutes to finally get them to start trying to get out; the parents came first followed by one cygnet. Of course it would have to be the lined up cygnet that was still in the water. We waited patiently trying to ignore it while we fed the others gradually enticing them further away from the water suddenly with a tremendous effort the last remaining cygnet came out of the water. Once it had walked up towards Graeme I edged my way round to get between them and the water, to cut off their means of escape. It’s a bit difficult on this pond as there are so many bramble bushes you only have small areas to work in. Thankfully I was able to come up from behind it pick it up quickly and make my escape. The Hammerton family, are quite a gentle pair they will allow the ducks to feed with them. They made no attempt to chase me just hissed and raised their wings. We moved a short distance away so as not to stress them and the cygnet, then knelt down holding him tight and slowly unravelled the line, we cut most of the line off. Then looked to see how the hook was embedded in his neck luckily it was only in the surface of the skin, we were able to remove it quickly and return the cygnet to its parents.
We have had an amazing amount of swans turn up on the boating lake and the yachting pond, even a couple of families with their cygnets. At the last count Janet did it came to a hundred and fifteen, for so many to turn up I wonder if we have got bad weather on the way. I had to dash out in the middle of this letter I had a call from the beach warden; a young seal was on the beach in a distressed state. I called Stephanie just as I was going down to it to call Tendring District Council’s “Back Waters Warden” I only know him as Leon and also Jim Farr of the RSPCA. When I got there Jim was already there holding a small towel. I went back to my car and grabbed the cover I have on the seat for my dog Blaise. Jim took the cloth, I had the towel, he went from behind and I went to front to stop its escape to the sea. After a bit of a struggle it was captured, Leon turned up sat astride it so they could look at it wounds. It had been bitten a number of times, apparently several are turning up like this, and its never ever happened before, so they are trying to find out what is biting them. It turned out to be a little girl and its now on its way to East Wynch RSPCA centre near Thetford Forest, leaving behind a cover with an enormous hole in where it had clamped its teeth and wouldn’t let go.
4th March 2005
Freedom and Braveheart had a tough time with the weather. They were frozen in the dyke and when trying to get to Eileen for food at 6 a.m. in the morning she heard the ice cracking, as Braveheart made a channel towards the bank for all of them. They managed to get close enough for her to throw the food to them and were soon tucking in. It will be awhile yet before Mistral starts to build her nest, but all of the females are eating tremendously preparing for the time when they go without food.
Just before I went on my holidays, Mistral had started to make her nest and sit on it leaving it every so often to feed or add more to her nest with the help of Freedom and Braveheart. It did not take long though before Mistral was in trouble with a hook and line in her leg.
Janet had gone down to the dyke with a willing helper, who had unfortunately never had any occasion to help in a rescue; apparently it did not go well. Janet and I work extremely well together and we do miss each other if one or the other of us is not available in a difficult rescue. Sue Morgan came down after hearing from Janet but by then Mistral and her two protectors were well aware that she was being sought out to be caught, they are all aware of the slightest movement you make towards them. Sue decided to call out the Kent wildlife rescue. Craig, one of the best rescuers took three hours with a canoe and patient persistence to catch her, once caught, Greig was able to free her from the fishing line and remove the hook from her leg. It was a particular nasty pike hook she was given a shot of antibiotics, tagged then released.
On my return home I was able to get some photos of her on the nest with her admiring suitors Freedom and Braveheart not far away. Since then she has hatched out eight cygnets. The following day when I went down one of the cygnets was missing. I can only presume it was not well or the pike has taken it, I don’t suppose we will ever know. As soon as I see them the first thing I do is always check the numbers and breathe a sigh of relief if they are all there. At 6.15 pm the wind was terrible along the seafront and it was difficult to walk against it. I checked on Mistral but she obviously thought the same and had gone on her nest to keep out of the wind. I walked around the field then made my way to the beach huts where it wasn’t quite so windy. Freedom takes to the skies every so often whooping like mad just to let everyone know that he is there and warning them to stay away. Braveheart does his best to follow but he has gone into moult and is unable to fly now. Mistral lost a second cygnet a few days later, and then a further two went missing the following night. It has been quite a shock to everyone who takes an interest in Mistral and her family. Every day people go to count them and breathe a sigh of relief that the four are still with their family. We can only assume it is either the pike or fox, but we have also heard there is a weasel in the area. Mistral now has the three cygnets who are growing quite well, thankfully none of them so far have been caught up in fishing line.
The Hammerton swan family had five babies but lost one very quickly. Mother produced three grey and two white cygnets. Early one morning when I was doing my usual rounds I found only three of the cygnets with their parents, I spotted the missing one struggling to get on the island where they nest at night, the cygnet was unable to get out of the water at all or even stand. I phoned for Andrew who has helped before as he and his friends have kayaks, he was on his way home from night work but immediately said he would help. The next hour to 8 a.m. was a long wait, patients is not one of my best virtues when I can see something suffering. I was trying so hard not to be too anxious; I even contemplated swimming over to the island but knew if I did the parents would attack me. It was the longest hour ever, before Andrews’s car came into sight. He had brought his brother and a work colleague.
It wasn't too long before we had the kayak carried to the pond along with my swan medical case. We got there just in time to see Freedom the Hooper swan had flown into their territory and was squaring up for a fight. The mother had taken her three cygnets into the reeds to hide them but the one that was trapped was calling frantically and Freedom was making towards it. Andrew quickly got the kayak into the water with his brother and paddled over to the cygnet. They managed to untangle it from the reeds and lift it into the kayak. It was badly entangled with fishing line in its mouth and round its body and leg. The hook was right in the joint of the leg. We cut the line first that had gone into its mouth hopefully he should automatically ingest it into the gullet. I was just able to see the barb on the hook, so while I held the leg and the hook Andrew was able to cut the barb off, and we were then able to pull the line through. We rubbed and massaged the swollen leg before injecting it with antibiotics and releasing it back to its parents. I returned to the pond in the afternoon to check that all was ok, it was feeding with its family and no swelling had appeared at any side of the neck so obviously it had digested the rest of the line and it seems in fine form now.
The last few days have been very hectic we had a family of swans on the railway line, which we were called out to. All the trains had been stopped for over half an hour. We walked over two miles only to discover that the swan family had managed to get back onto the river. We were all worn out but then had to walk another two miles to get back. Rail tracks are not the best places to walk, very rough.
The day before a family with six cygnets had turned up via the sea to go on the boating lake but a family with two cygnets were already there and the parents of those were most aggressive. The next morning the six cygnets with their parents had left the area but I soon found them sleeping on the prom opposite the Cliff Hotel. I got Alan to call Sandy, one of the girls that help out with the swans, thankfully she agreed to come. Sandy brought seed and bread with her so we managed to walk them along to the next slope about a couple of hundred yards away and finally persuaded them to go on the beach; then began our vigil to keep people and dogs away from the area until the tide came in. We hoped they would go back from where they had come. They finally set of about 11.30 a.m. as the tide grew deeper, swam over to near the stone pier and rested on some sand and rocks where we knew they would be safe. So we left taking it in turns to call back from time to time and check on them. They finally disappeared at 3 p.m. we hoped they had gone in the direction of the river Stour but neither of us saw in which direction they went.
Monday was the busy day with the railway family. I then got home to the second callout to the caravan camp. I had been informed it was cygnet with an extremely swollen foot. When I arrived I was met with the parents and six cygnets, they looked like our beach family. I left to go back later but then had to deal with the railway family. On my return I phoned Sandy to tell her I think I have found your beach family and could she pick me up.
A short while later we arrived at the caravan camp, to find one cygnet all on its own. I picked him up and looked at his leg, which was extremely swollen but no sign of a line. I was unable to get hold of Sue so I left her a phone message. Sandy had gone to check on the rest of the beach family and give them some food on her return. We then returned to mind the injured cygnet while I phoned Alan to get the cage ready, which is now in my back room.
Sue phoned later and we discussed the cygnet. Sue was unable to take it as she was full up, plus the fact she was moving back into her house after a fire she had nearly a year ago so life was very hectic for her. It was decided to inject two lots of antibiotics and then see how it goes. He has now been named Harry if its a girl it will be Harriet or something similar. Harry had quite perked up on Tuesday so we decided to put him in the bath. We tried the sink but it wasn't deep enough, as we needed to get the leg in the water so we filled the bath. Harry had his first swim with us peeking through the door, he will stay in one spot if we are there but likes to swim round when we’re not. The leg is still very swollen, Sue thinks from the information we have given, that he could have dislocated his hip. Tonight he is due for another double injection and a final one on Friday night then he is going over to Sue's at Salcott near Tiptree. He will be having two daily baths lasting about a couple of hours according to how he is.
Summer of 2005 to February 2006
We have been extremely busy with calls from the police and general public for injured and sick swans from all over the district. I have managed to get a small swan house in my garden plus a collapsible makeshift pond, which Sue Morgan gave me. Sometimes we have them stay for a week’s course of antibiotics others are just overnight before being moved on to Sue’s. We have had DEFRA come to the house to pick up dead swans for post-mortem; thankfully so far it has not been avian flu.
With regards to Mistral, Freedom and Braveheart they are fine, they have been frozen in a few times, but I was still able to get the food to them. I think Mistral and Braveheart may have mated or she is preparing to, as she seems to be very hungry and cannot wait for me to walk down the path to the dyke. If I am not quick enough she will be up the path to the top as soon as she hears my car, then they will walk down with me to the water’s edge and wait, while I tip the corn and flaked cooked barley into the water, which is then followed by a bag of fresh cut cubed bread hand cut by my husband Alan. I will let you know when they start to nest.
The Hammerton family, who I have now named and they sound very grand, finally got rid of their remaining cygnets by taking them down to the boating lake. We had a problem with Lady Hammerton (very grand) about a month ago; she seemed to be attached to an area near the island and would not come for her food for several days. In the end I managed to get my nephew Graeme to help as well as Andrew and his brother Steven with their kayaks and canoes to try and catch her. It turned out Lady Hammerton wasn’t attached to a line, but something was definitely wrong. Andrew and Steven tried to corner her, but she and Lord Hammerton finally took flight. They both landed in the dyke, which then became quite manic as Freedom and Braveheart went into attack, Lord Hammerton nearly got drowned until Andrew intervened with his kayak and Lord Hammerton was able to take flight. Lady Hammerton followed, but by then was too exhausted and landed on the other side of the dyke.
Andrew and Steven landed their craft to investigate where she had come down while Graeme and I took to our heels and ran all the way from the Hammerton pond to the other side of the dyke, finally panting and puffing we arrived to find Lady Hammerton in the middle of the field of long grass and bracken. I had shouted to some fishermen on the way to come and give us a hand as we needed to prevent her taking off again by forming a circle around her. After much banter and persuasion they joined us to close in on her and with my final rugby tackle we caught her. With help from Andrew I managed to get on to my knees still holding onto Lady Hammerton and finally sitting astride her leaving my hands free to investigate what was wrong.
To begin with the only thing that was visible on one side of her neck was a small lump. This could have possibly been a small fishing hook, which at some time had been caught in her neck and eventually calcified around the hook; this certainly would not have caused her unusual behaviour. I then began feeling and looking at the other side of her neck and suddenly glancing at her eye I discovered it looked red and very misted compared to the other eye. After inspecting it more closely and conferring with Sue Morgan by mobile my observation concluded with a diagnosis of a possible cataract and eye infection. Sue then confirmed I was most probably right as Swans unfortunately do get cataracts, but there is nothing we can do other than treat the infection. With the help of Andrew and Graeme I managed to get back on my two feet again and we proceeded to my car to transfer Lady Hammerton to her new home (Swan House, Dovercourt Bay) for the next seven days where she would receive eye drops, antibiotics and vitamin B every other day until the infection had cleared up and she was eating again.
In the seven days Lady Hammerton resided with us Lord Hammerton went back to the Hammerton pond to guard his territory. I have to say I was extremely worried that he would leave the area and they would lose contact with each another. The day came to release Lady Hammerton, the infection having cleared and although the beginning of a cataract was there it did look a lot better. Graeme along with Sandy and her husband Gary joined me, as they have all helped me on numerous rescues. Andrew and Steven unfortunately couldn’t meet at the rendezvous as they had other commitments. It was a windy day when we arrived at the spot where we always feed. Lord Hammerton was right down the other end of the pond guarding the cut through, which leads into the dyke, where our Mistral Freedom and Braveheart reside. There have on several occasions been stand offs and skirmishes between the five of them in this vicinity. We called and called him, but to no avail as he would not leave his position.
Normally releasing a swan on the edge of a bank they will immediately go straight into the water. It was not to be, Lady Hammerton decided to take flight, she rose into the air flew right over her beloved Lord Hammerton then seemed to lose height. We stood watching in horror with open mouths then we all started to run. We were not sure if she had landed in the grass area again or the sea, gasping for breath we eventually got to the field and to our horror we found she had landed in the sea. The wind was blowing quite strong, the sea was very rough and the tide was on the ebb. We were very worried she would be carried out by the tide. We stood watching for about twenty minutes although it seemed like hours. Finally she started to take off while we watched with bated breath. We all ended up shouting “come on” “come on” as we willed her to gain height. Finally she made it.
We prayed she would go back to her pond but she was obviously confused, which we put down to having only one really good eye. Suddenly she veered round and came right over our heads making for the boating lake, or so we thought, when she again veered round towards the sea and started coming back towards us and the two lines of beach huts. The awful thing was that she was losing height and we knew she wasn’t going to make it. Suddenly she disappeared from sight and it was obvious she had come down. We just prayed she had not hit a beach hut.
We all started to run towards the beach huts to get to the field beyond them. Gary and Sandy being younger were in front with me behind, when suddenly two very large dogs thought it was a great game and decided to join in. One minute I was running the next I was on the ground with two large dogs standing over me and licking me to death, with their owner apologising like mad and me with only one thought on mind; to get up and start running again. I managed to extract myself from the very friendly dogs, running and explaining at the same time to their owner that we were after a swan and I was ok. I got through the beach huts to see Gary reaching Lady Hammerton and managing to pick her up. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at our joy at catching her and then my explanation at not being right behind them having been delayed by my unfortunate meeting of two very large friendly dogs.
We took about ten minutes to get back with her to the pond; thankfully we managed to find another area close by to where we normally feed them. It was very steep but with us hanging on to Gary, so he did not slip while he was holding Lady Hammerton, he managed to get down to the water’s edge. Lord Hammerton was in the area and as we released her she thankfully went straight into the water. They did not greet each other right away but as we left they had swum closer together. Over the next few weeks we monitored her closely to see how she would cope. Thankfully we have a happy ending; they are both together with Lord Hammerton being very protective to his beloved allowing her to eat first while he stands guard. Lady Hammerton is coping very well with her weak eye. We are now waiting to see when they will start building their new nest.
The Swan Lady
March 2006 to May 2007
Taking up the story of Mistral, Freedom and Braveheart they finally nested, and as usual Freedom would always make sure he was on the nest with Mistral, while poor old Braveheart would be in the water in all weathers.
Eventually the happy event occurred and she produced six baby cygnets, which she brought for me to see the first time they swam the length of the dyke, sometimes resting on her back until they got bigger. As usual we did have a few problems with fishing lines. The first one was really a nasty one; if we had not got to the little cygnet when we did it would have perished through the heat of the sun. They had taken to sitting on the opposite side of the bank near the cut through to the Hammerton pond. I got a call to tell me something was wrong so I called Sandy who turned up with her husband Gary and we made our way over to the Hammerton pond, as this was the only way to get to the bank. We pushed our way through and on reaching the bank Mistral Freedom Braveheart and cygnets splashed into the water, except for one …
Sorry have had to stop its now 8.45 pm just had a call come in. A young swan on the beach will not move, a retriever dog is going mad at it, must dash grabbing swan bag plus large torch on the way. Now 9.25 pm back home. A large cygnet, a good weight so could be water logged, perhaps driven out by his parents. I have put towels in the house with food and water, settled him for the night. He is very subdued so I’ll see how he is tomorrow.
To continue: one cygnet who was struggling, pinned flat on his back by a fishing line and calling for his parents, then decided to start attacking us. We backed off slightly to decide what to do. We decided that Gary and I would keep the swans at bay while Sandy tried to release the cygnet. After a little while she succeeded but he was still covered very badly in line so we moved away from the bank towards the field only to find Mistral coming after us. Gary and Sandy proceeded to remove the line while I kept Mistral from coming up the bank towards them. At last the cygnet is free of line and not injured. We slipped him gently into the water just as his family were going to attack us again. Once they had all swam off chattering to each other we had a good look at the bank and ended up removing a massive amount of line from the whole area, including from the water, a job well done. The following day they were there at the usual place waiting to be fed.
A couple of days have passed as I had to dash over to Brightlingsea where a young cygnet was being attacked by its parents as they wanted him to leave and he wouldn’t go. He would have eventually left but people were getting upset so we brought him home for a couple of days before releasing him on the boating lake where he seems to have settled in.
The cygnet rescued from the beach didn’t make it - he slowly went down hill. We think he may have had an air leak and there is nothing you can do for them only ease the pain. I had to let DEFRA know and they came to collect him, as I have no idea where he came from. They will test for bird flu but I don’t think it will be that, fingers crossed.
Life continued in a peaceful way for quite a while with Mistral and her family, all six of them grew into beautiful young cygnets. Then as usual I went to feed them in the early morning when no one was around except one man walking along the prom towards the car park. I carried on down towards the dyke to be greeted by all the family and spotted one of the cygnets lined up. I had no option but to take my chance while I had the opportunity of them being close and feeding.
I grabbed the cygnet and ran up the path towards the small car park with Mistral and Braveheart on my tail. None of my dog walking friends had arrived; the only person was the gentleman near his car, poor man he must have thought I was some crazy woman appearing at the top of the lane with a swan under my arm and my hand in plaster as I had broken my wrist. The conversation followed with only me speaking, I think he was struck dumb for a while.
“Would you mind standing at the top of the lane as the parents are chasing me” “I am Swan Rescue the cygnet is lined up with fishing line” “just put your arms out wide they will think you are enormous then just move your arms back and forth hopefully they will go back to the water” doing exactly as I asked I then said “Have they gone back down”. At last he spoke “yes they have”. I said “oh good would you mind helping me hold the cygnet while I look to see where he is lined up”. He replied in a very cultured voice “I have never touched a swan or had any dealings with them”, answering back I assured him there was nothing to worry about and there is always a first time in life for everything. With that out of the way I knelt down with the swan and showed him where to hold the cygnet while I proceeded to check the cygnet out. The line was all around its wing, and leg with a hook in the foot.
Emergency 18th March 2007 - 2pm
Sorry have got to dash again just had confirmation of what I suspected this morning. Mistral is lined up, this is going to be very difficult. Back home 4pm, no luck Freedom warned her we were coming; my nephew Graeme and I were on our hands, knees and stomachs crawling on the grass to try and sneak up behind them as they lay on the bank, but it was no good they all went straight into the water. I have arranged with Andrew, and hopefully his brother, to have canoes for tomorrow between 6 and 7am. I will try first with food at 6am to see if I can get her close enough to grab her. I have also phoned one of the local firemen and he has told me to phone the emergency line tomorrow if we don’t get her, as he is not on duty, I know they will help if they can.
Carefully snipping the wire and gradually unravelling it from its wings being careful not to damage the feathers I finally got it down to the leg cutting the loose line away I then cutting the barb off the hook so I could remove it. All the while this was going on the gentleman was saying how marvellous it was to touch a swan. The hook was finally removed. I went towards the pathway and the cygnet immediately called to its family and Mistral started up the path again, I quickly put the cygnet down and it rushed towards her. I turned and went back to my stranger to thank him for all his help. “Do you live locally” I asked? “Oh no” he replied “I am only parked near the beach to kill time as I am waiting to go to Germany via the ferry.” He told me that he came from Sussex and had obviously seen swans, but had never been that close before. He then thanked me for the experience!
Nothing else happened for quite a while until they started to learn to fly and one of the cygnets came down, we think on a hard surface, injured its leg and wouldn’t get out of the water for a long time. Unfortunately they often end up with leg injuries and there is little you can do except take the pain away with a painkiller, but it’s not something you can keep doing. The best therapy is to keep them on water so as to give the leg time to heal. Although some swans will always limp if they have an injury; once on water or in the air they are fine.
Family life continued with the cygnets growing into beautiful swans. Then in January two of them flew off and did not return. Gradually one by one they disappeared. I am sure some are on the boating lake pond and will no doubt find a mate perhaps for next year when they will fly off to find their own territory
It’s now March 2007 and the last cygnets disappeared about two weeks ago, it’s always rather sad when they go. You wonder how they will fair in the big wide world, as not everyone is nice, but we have done our best to help them. Mistral is on the lookout for a nesting place and it looks as if she has gone back to her previous one on the other side of the bank, which looks as if it might be reasonably well protected by brambles, let us hope so.
Back To the Emergency:
I was dreading the following morning when I would go to feed Mistral, Freedom and Braveheart. I certainly did not sleep very well that night. I was full of apprehension as I approached the dyke. Apart from Freedom and Braveheart waiting to be fed there was no sign of Mistral. I called several times then all of a sudden she came into sight, it looked as if she was swimming quite well. I stood waiting for her to approach and as she glided in I could see no sign of line, lucky enough the water was clear and one leg and foot were ok. I waited patiently as she fed, hopeful that she may turn around so I could get a good look at her other leg. Having had enough grain and bread she turned to go back to her nest building and I was able to see clearly she was free from all line. Relaxing with a long sigh of relief I departed up the bank smiling to myself as I reached for my phone to send texts to the young lads that were coming to help. The text read “everything fine mission abort” an answer back from one of them was “The eagle has landed” laughing to myself I continued on collecting my dogs, Meg and Patch, from the car. We proceeded to do a beach hut patrol and a long walk before eventually returning home for breakfast.
Patch is our new dog I call him our Polish refugee, as he was on his way to Poland and got stopped by the “Stena Ferry Line” because the people had no documentation and although they said that they found him a hundred odd miles away they couldn’t remember exactly where. He was a poor little scrap when I picked him up just in cardboard box, no lead or collar. I had been looking for another dog but not quite as small as him. We checked him out with the authorities and they reckoned he was about nine or ten weeks old. So we decided to keep him. He has made us all laugh so much with his antics, not one to take swan rescuing though.
Life continued on the dyke with the flurry of nest building taking place with Freedom and Braveheart helping Mistral with her nest. On several occasions during the week Mistral and Freedom could be seen sitting on the nest with Braveheart in the water then everything changed. They seem to have left the nest and kept disappearing. I walked one afternoon all along the whole length of the dyke and eventually found them. They had gone under the bridge in a very overgrown part of the dyke, which had a great deal of weed in it, and they stayed in one place not moving and would not come for food. On reaching home I phoned June, a friend who also keeps an eye on them and warned her that they were behaving oddly.
The following morning Freedom was on his own on the usual part of the dyke, not far from the bridge, when I noticed his left wing was hanging down and he didn’t look happy. I found Mistral and Braveheart still in the same place and they seemed very wary. The following day Saturday March 24th 5.45am Freedom was again by himself with his wing further into the water and he was leaning to one side. I knew I had no option but to ring Andrew to see if he could help. I decided to wait until I got home after my walk with Meg and Patch all the time wondering how we would catch Freedom as he is so beautifully wild and had evaded all previous attempts to catch him. On reaching home I phoned Andrew, bless him he immediately said yes he would get some more people to help. By the time they had got the canoes and kayaks together it was about 11am. He is such a nice lad and his wife Maxine is a lovely person, they have just had another baby to add to their family, a little boy so I did feel awful having to bother him. He and Maxine are so good natured. I spent the rest of the time getting everything ready, I phoned Sue Morgan of Swan Rescue in Salcott to discuss the situation and to get her advice. I then phoned some more people to help, my husbands friend Ken and a fisherman friend John from the Caravan Camp volunteered to come along, as well as my daughter Stephanie who is not to well but loves to help and is very good at getting the injections ready for me to use. The time arrived for us to depart.
On reaching the Dyke Andrew, Dave and Bill were already there with their canoes along with Ken and John and his son were walking towards us from the other end of the dyke. Stephanie stayed with the car getting everything ready for when we returned. The canoes were put in the water and Andrew offered to canoe but his friend Bill decided he would, when he realised the person sitting in the back of the canoe with the hook would have to catch Freedom, I don’t blame him. The lads got into the canoes and made their way up the dyke towards Freedom while the rest of us walked alongside on the bank. The canoes reached Freedom before we got there and I could see he was trying to hide in the reeds. Fortunately there’s not too much growth at this time of year so he had very little to hide in. Suddenly he realised this and was trying to get away but they got the hook around his neck. I called out to them to grab the neck as I could see he might have learned from Mistral to bend his neck sliding it out of the hook. Thankfully that didn’t happen and Andrew grabbed the neck and hauled him on to the canoe. “I asked if they were alright to canoe back with him towards the car as Stephanie was there waiting for us.
Finally arriving Andrew was helped out of the boat holding onto Freedom as he walked towards the car. I quickly opened the back of my estate and placed Freedom inside while some of the others held him. He was extremely strong and was determined to try to stand and escape. I eventually passed him over to them. I helped Stephanie with the drugs as the long acting antibiotic is difficult to draw into the syringe, which is then followed by a painkiller and a vitamin B. All of these are to help him heal and relieve the pain. Stephanie completed getting the drugs ready and with a full syringe we turned our attention to the wing that was injured. The only way to see if a wing is broken is by pulling it out to its full length and then watching to see how it retracts when let go. His wing did retract, but not like a normal healthy wing because obviously it was bruised and he was in pain. We checked the other wing, which retracted quickly having noticed a main wing feather was missing on the injured wing with only the shaft of the feather left. We treated this with iodine knowing it will eventually grow back. Freedom was then injected in the leg. Once done it was time to return him to the dyke. Andrew and John went down to the waters edge and waded into the water and gently lowered him in. As he swam away he flicked his wing which is a good sign, then he drew himself out of the water as if to shake off any feelings he had of being touched by us, and swam quickly up the dyke back to where he had come from, a fair distance and a joy to see. Having thanked everyone for coming and helping it was now just a question of monitoring him so and we departed for home
Later in the afternoon I took Meg and Patch for their usual walk but this time towards Freedom and to check on Mistral and Braveheart. Freedom had returned to where we had captured him and was standing preening himself. I stood and watched for a while and was pleased to see he was preening both sides of his wings so he was obviously feeling better. I continued on towards Mistral and Braveheart. I found Braveheart in the water and Mistral had built another nest which she was sitting on asleep. She raised her head as I stopped to look but made no movement to get off. On my return to my car I met a friend, Maureen and her husband Bob. I stopped to chat and mentioned our problem with Freedom. Bob then started to tell me that a couple of nights ago they had come down with their dogs at midnight and had been surprised to hear the whooper swan flying around at night and calling out making a dreadful noise as if he was distressed. It so worried them that they shone the headlights of their car on to the dyke to see if it would help him land, but he was still making a lot of noise and they couldn’t tell if he had landed. Swans do not normally fly at night and always find a roosting place as dusk sets in. They are convinced something had really frightened him, which would explain why they deserted their first nest. It could have been foxes or even undesirable humans I don’t suppose we will ever know.
This morning I made the long trek towards where they had last been and I met Braveheart on the way and stopped to feed him, then continued on to find Mistral was on her new nest with Freedom in the water not far from her and looking well, with both wings in the right position. Now we can only watch and wait for the next instalment. We are keeping a close eye on Freedom and we just hope the wing will heal. His wing is still dropped he hid in the reeds on the dyke after we had dealt with him on Saturday. Sunday he was with Mistral, Monday he was still on the dyke hiding: Today (20th March 2007) he was missing from the dyke but had gone over to the Hammerton pond.
May 2007 - Update
Had a few injured swans and a duck in, which take up a great deal of my time looking after them. The last one went to Salcott for continued treatment and recovery of a head injury and fractured spine.
Freedom was beginning to recover after he hid for several weeks in the Hammerton Pond. His wing had gone back to the normal position and he was beginning to flap his wings. Then suddenly In the middle of March Freedom vanished completely. We searched for him everywhere, people from around the district walked miles but to no avail.
Then two months later a Whooper swan turned up on the Yacht Pond, but his head and neck was all orange? Several people including one of my members who is a bird watcher did not think it was Freedom but we all searched through our old photos to compare the markings on his beak. Although I have to say I was convinced from the day he turned up that it was Freedom because of the way he went straight to the corn and barley. Usually a new swan will not readily go to eat it, its normally a few days before they get the hang of it, thankfully I was proved right. He has made no attempt to return to the dyke although he has flown close. Mistral and Braveheart must know he is back as he is in full voice now and can be heard at quite a distance.
Mistral has hatched her family and has six cygnets; one egg was left on the nest so we presume there must have been something wrong with it for it not to hatch. Freedom is ruling on the yacht pond at the moment, when I put the corn down in heaps along the edge of the pond Freedom watches from the back of the flock. Once I move away he moves in and in one fell swoop and a few pecks the swans move away from the heap of corn he has chosen to eat from and he is left to his own pile.
We worry every day that the largest pike in the dyke, that has been seen to take an adult duck as well as small ones, will try to take the Cygnets. Each day when they come to be fed I count them in to see they are all there - so far so good.
The Hammerton Family
Lord and Lady Hammerton nested in their usual place and had four young, two white and two brown. One of the white cygnets disappeared very quickly so they were left to raise only three. This is a lovely family and very tolerant of other species. We had two rescues in the Hammerton pond over a period of time. John and Gary from the Caravan Camp helped out along with my friend Sandra. On the first one of the cygnets had a line in its throat with the weight hanging outside its mouth. It’s not easy to rescue here as the banks are steep. It was not a very nice day and got quite cold after a while with the two of us keeping hooks in the water and throwing bread to try and draw them near. We were getting rather exasperated. So we started chatting hoping the cygnet would think we were ignoring it. All of a sudden John got his hook on the cygnet and it was about to escape, when Sandra without warning jumped into the water and grabbed the cygnet. I don’t know who was more surprised us or the swan’s as the water was up to her chest. It was then a question of hauling her and the cygnet out and trying not to laugh too much.
Once they were out of the water I felt the neck of the swan and hoped the hook had gone down. I couldn’t feel anything so we cut the line and took the weight off. We were about to release the cygnet when I noticed blood, we found it had cut the side of its leg. Although it was bleeding quite a bit it was not deep, more of a nasty graze and by applying pressure it eventually eased up so I decided it would be better to release the cygnet back with its family. Turning round to look at Sandra who by this time was starting to shiver in between much laughter from her and us, and me telling her off as she could have really hurt herself, we returned to the car still laughing.
The second one was on the day I had been to London and had returned deciding to take Meg out for her walk. Driving down the lane towards the dyke and passing the entrance that leads to the Hammerton Pond I noticed a fire engine was parked outside the gate. Thinking to myself a youngster had lit a fire again I reached the dyke parked my car, got Meg out and started on my walk looking over as I went, to see people around the pond. The next thing the phone rings and I am told a cygnet is in trouble. I then make my way over to the pond with Meg, as she is good with swans and not a bit of trouble. On reaching the pond the firemen had a boat in the water commanded by a male and female officer. The cygnet was strapped to a bush on the island by fishing line and was franticly trying to escape, especially as the boat got near to it, and it was extremely water logged. The female officer was not really sure what to do and the cygnet was getting so frantic it was going to do itself untold damage if they didn’t act quickly. I called out just grab the neck hold it steady while you just cut him away from the bush. The officer said, “Shall I let him go” I called out “No bring him ashore” without more ado they went over to the further bank, and guess who jumped in before anyone could do anything to help get the cygnet out yes you’re right, Sandra. We are now convinced she just likes jumping in the water whatever the weather. The cygnet was badly lined up and it took time to release it from the fishing line and although it was badly water logged it would recover more quickly back with its family. So once again we released it back into the water.
Life continued on with Lord and Lady Hammerton and their beautiful cygnets in a very peaceful way. We had no more trouble from their area. The cygnets grew into beautiful swans and the parents were beginning to try to push them off. One morning on my way to work I had barely got there when a call came in that a swan was in someone’s garden and because they were open plan the swan kept going into the road and was nearly run over.
When I got the address I knew it was one of the Hammerton families. Thankfully I have a very understanding boss and I can please myself when I go in and he never minds if I am called out for swans. On reaching the road I was not exactly dressed for rescuing swans but that’s a minor detail that one just ignores. The swan was happily wandering around, the house owners who I knew gave me some bread, which he didn’t want and then he decided to walk along the road with me beside him. He didn’t get far when I grabbed his neck and he just sat down on the pavement and gave up. I think he was just fed up of there being no water. I put him in the car and took him to the Boating Lake, as it was no good putting him back with his family, because they would just have chased him off again. Once there I quickly released him and he seemed happy enough.
About a week later, I saw one of the parents take the other two cygnets for a flight; and I guessed the cygnets were going to be left somewhere. The next morning I spotted the white one as she has pinkie coloured legs on the Boating Lake. When I got to the Hammerton Pond only Lord and Lady Hammerton were there. Life has continued peacefully, so far they have not nested, but I do not think it will be long before she decides where she will nest this year.
A Final Farewell
Mistral & Braveheart Up-date
May 2007 to April 2008
With regards to Mistral Braveheart and Freedom things went well for them in the beginning.
Freedom left the area once his wing had healed, and never returned to be with Mistral and Braveheart, he was missing for quite some time and everyone was searching for him. He eventually turned up on the Boating Lake Pond in late December 2007, then vanished again and returned in January. He looked as if he had been partly dipped in orange but according to Sue Morgan he had been eating somewhere where there is a high content of iron, so we think he was in the backwaters area. Since then he has come and gone on a regular basis, sometimes for a few days other times he's away for weeks.
Mistral had six cygnets in 2007, one was quite weak and disappeared very quickly but the remaining five continued to thrive being protected by Braveheart and Mistral. Then on June 29th one of the cygnets on the other side of the bank was in trouble, it was trapped on the bank by fishing line and was unable to stand up or move. It was an extremely hot day and the cygnet certainly would not survive the heat of the sun.
I contacted Sandy and thankfully she came to help along with her husband Gary, which was a great help to me. Mistral and Braveheart were going crazy as we approached the cygnet and were trying to attack us. There was only one thing we could do. Gary and myself kept them at bay while Sandy worked behind us to free the cygnet, once it was free from the bank we retreated with it up the bank, and further away from its parents, while we tried to de-tangle it from the line, as the line was round the wings, legs and body.
Mistral was not going to give up on her cygnet and still came after us, so I stayed back to keep Mistral at bay while Sandy and Gary finished helping the cygnet. As soon as it was free of the line and thankfully had no other injuries we quickly returned to the Dyke and released the cygnet into the water, with Mistral and Braveheart hissing like mad. They all then swam away together. We stayed behind on the bank and inspected the whole area, including the water’s edge, and we removed and enormous amount of line.
Life continued in a peaceful manner until the end of July when one of the cygnets started limping. He was caught but nothing wrong could be found with him so he was given long acting pain relief and antibiotics and seemed to be picking up; then suddenly he completely disappeared. We can only presume a fox had taken him one night as he could not fly.
In late August the remaining four cygnets started their flying lessons and could be seen practicing up and down the Dyke and eventually took to short flights. On 15th September I had a call from a lady living not far from the Dyke and Hammerton Pond area. A cygnet had tried to land on her roof then fell off and landed on her car. We rushed to her house to find the swan bleeding and obviously traumatised. The lady and her husband were both lovely, they were more worried about the swan than their car, even though the car had been dented.
He was reasonably quick to catch, transferred to my car, then home to my place for a couple of days for long acting pain relief and antibiotics. I monitored him for those two days and it was obvious he had a back injury. There is not much we could do for an injury like this, apart from pain relief and to get him back on the water as quickly as possible, so we returned him to his family on the 17th September. He was alright whilst on the water but had difficulty in standing for any length of time, but we knew it would take and incredibly long time to heal and there was always the probability of him always having a weakness in standing. We never saw him fly again, he was happy to stay on the Dyke while the others would take off for a flight but he would always be looking for them to come back.
It was a few days later on my usual early morning visit when I found only three cygnets with their parents. I took a wander along the Dyke to see if the fourth one was about, but no sign of it. I spotted something white in the small over grown stream that flows between the Dyke and the Hammerton Pond; I was hoping it was a plastic bag. I took a walk over to the area and fought my way through the brambles and managed to peer down into the stream and much to my horror the cygnet was laying dead in the water. It was going to be difficult to retrieve so I went home to arrange to get more help and equipment. Having made a few phone calls, discussing with my nephew Graeme and my friend Julie how we were going to retrieve the cygnet and what equipment we would need, we arranged to meet there at 3pm.
On arriving at the Hammerton wearing old clothes, Wellington Boots and bringing swan hooks, and a rope as well as matting to lay over the brambles, we looked a motley crew. We cut as many brambles as we could to clear a way to the edge to lean over to see if we could retrieve it that way. After a lot of scrambling about, Graeme managed to heave the cygnet with the hook just out of the water enough for us to grab hold to help him out with it. Once out we had a good look at the cygnet, we again can only assume what might have happened, which is the cygnet accidentally landed in the Hammerton Pond and was chased by Lord Hammerton protecting his own cygnets from what he thought was another Swan trying to attack his family or steal his territory. Lord Hammerton must have caught the cygnet unable to fight its way through the stream to the Dyke area and unfortunately drowned it; nature at times can be very cruel.
Mistral, Braveheart and the last remaining cygnets continued on the Dyke for some time. By the beginning of December one of the cygnets was being chased by Braveheart to make him leave the area eventually he flew off on his own and never returned. The remaining cygnets continued with their parents and at times dependant on the weather they were frozen in at the Dyke, but they always managed to either crack the ice to get to where I feed them or, if not, come near enough for me to throw food to them.
I had been keeping a close watch on the cygnet with the back injury, his tail feathers would hang down in the water, which indicates a back injury, as I have said before there is nothing you can do for this. He was eating and preening and doing all what he should while in the water, but had not flown since his accident. Lately Braveheart and Mistral were pushing the last two remaining cygnets to leave, knowing he most probably couldn't fly it was decided to pick him up to give him some more pain relief and antibiotics in the hope it would stop tail blight, as he was losing his feathers in that area.
I contacted Julie as I thought it would be wise to remove both cygnets to the Yacht Pond so at the very least they would have one another. On the 15th Jan 2008 we were lucky as Mistral had been going up to where she had nested previously and Braveheart had gone with her. When Julie and I arrived we positioned ourselves around the edge of the Dyke and persuaded the cygnets to come out with bread and seed. Once they were out of the water I threw the seed on the ground. As they bent to eat it we both moved at the same time and grabbed a cygnet each, my goodness were they heavy, I must have fed them too well. I had hold of the injured cygnet, which we had called No-tail. We struggled up the path to the car park, I knelt on the grass holding on to No-tail who was struggling like mad and Julie was in the same predicament with the other cygnet. Both of us were laughing as we had realized neither of us could get the car keys out of my pocket.
Thankfully I spotted a dog walker coming towards us, with his little daughter and a dog. I called to him and explained the situation and asked if he could help. He kindly said he would, although he had never touched a swan as he had always considered them to be dangerous. He put his dog in the car then came to help us, I showed him how to hold the swan on the grass while I quickly got my keys to open my car. He was quite thrilled to have helped us and we let his daughter stroke No-tail, which she thought was wonderful and we gave them an up-date on why we were removing them. It was decided to put No-tail in the swan carrier bag as he was coming to my place for the night to receive pain relief and antibiotics to prepare him for life on the Yacht Pond with the rest of the flock. Julie said she would sit in the back of my car carrying the other cygnet, which was only a short drive away to the Yacht Pond. Once there he was quickly released and we proceeded to my place with No-tail where he was injected and put in the swan house to rest. On 16th January No-tail was released onto the Yacht Pond and has been doing well ever since although I have never seen him fly.
From the 14th January I had not seen Mistral, she had not come for her food but I knew that she was perhaps preparing her nesting site by gathering material, at such times she would often not turn up at feeding time. I had asked some of the dog walkers that pass where she often nested and one said she was sitting on the nest. On 18th January I decided to go and investigate as Braveheart had come for food by himself, I walked along by the side of the Dyke and on reaching the area I found her lying in the water with her neck stretched out in front of her on the other side of the bank, with no possibility of reaching her as there were thick brambles all along that area, which is why she always nested there because it gave her good protection.
Braveheart had followed me up the Dyke. As he reached Mistral he stopped and just stood over her. It was just so sad, she had been such a good mother, always bringing her young with her, as soon as they could get to the feeding area where she knew I would be. Then she would walk them out of the pond to meet me as I came down the path to the feeding area, I felt very honoured that she trusted me so much considering I sometimes had no option but to catch her many times to remove hooks and fishing lines. There was nothing I could do now but get home and to get someone with a boat. It took me all day phoning and asking everyone I met in every shop I went into until at last I struck lucky. I was told to ring someone called Andy, which I did and when we finally met up he turned out to be someone I knew a long time ago and had not seen around for a considerable time. It was a joy to meet him again. As we talked I gathered he had been through a very rough time having been very ill and still has quite a few problems, but he sure has a heart of gold as it was not easy for him but he insisted on helping me.
We eventually got the boat into my car and drove very slowly to the Dyke, which is quite a distance from where Andy lived; the last part was a bit of a rough road. On reaching the Dyke Braveheart was standing by Mistral but as I helped Andy put the boat into the water and Andy started to row towards Mistral, Braveheart swam a short distance away while watching Andy take Mistral away. When Andy got back to shore I helped pull the boat out. Then we carried it back to my car putting it and Mistral in the back. We stood and looked at Braveheart as he had gone back to the place where Mistral had been. I knew he would mourn for several weeks.
We left to return to Andy's to unload the boat and once that was done I thanked him most profusely and departed for home. On reaching home I phoned Sue Morgan to inform her of what had happened. She asked what position Mistral had her neck and on informing her that the neck was stretched out in front of her Sue said it was either a stroke or heart attack.
Mistral has had a very chequered life with quite a few partners and has had many cygnets over the years looking after them all so well. There are a great many people who will miss her. I know I will but I have some lovely memories of her and all her cygnets that she has brought into this world. Some are very special, especially to me and to Janet who often helped me rescue her when she had become tangled in fishing line.
Braveheart continued in the area protecting his territory but he looked so lonely. When he came to feed in the mornings I'd give him seed as well as bread and had turned to leave him to finish it, but as I walked away he started to leave as well. So I stopped and stood with him until he had finished, it was as if he needed company. I tried several mornings to walk away but every time the same thing would happen. This went on for several weeks. It was well over two weeks before he would finally stay on his own to feed. For the first two days I stood at the top of the path to watch what he would do. Many people had asked if I could find a female for him as he looked so lonely. We all kept hoping one would turn up but as time went on we thought he was going to be on his own for a long while.
On Tuesday 22nd April upon reaching the Dyke, I found Braveheart with another swan nearby. It could only be a female as there was no way he would have allowed a male into his territory. She is a small swan, quite a dainty lady and I do not think she is very old. She came to feed with Braveheart and they both made a huffing sound, which swans do when they greet one another. Then she wandered off again, but never too far away, I think she could be playing hard to get, or Braveheart is pretending he is not interested, we shall just have to wait and see what happens. We thought about calling her ones of these names, taking into account she is small dainty and quite pretty so far we have thought of Spring, Snowdrop and Bluebell unless anyone else can think of a better name for her, we are open to offers.
In May I saw Braveheart mate with her and since then they have been together a great deal but no sign of nest building. I think she is a very young swan, so perhaps it is to soon for her to have young ones. We may be lucky next year, only time will tell. I still see No-tail and he is coping marvellously, today he walked out from the Yacht Pond to meet me, it's rather nice to see how well he is coping with walking.
Freedom has not been seen for a year, he went into the backwaters last year and it is hoped he managed to migrate and hopefully not be mistaken for a goose and shot by the wildfowlers; Eileen will check with them to see if he has been spotted anywhere near their land.
Braveheart has a new mate, in the spring she made her nest and had eight young; all reared with no problems whatsoever and all absolutely lovely.
Lord Hammerton has not been so lucky; he found a new mate but she was badly beaten up by Bravehearts new mate that she was too ill to return; so Lord Hammerton is still on his own; although it is rather strange to have a family split up through fighting one another when they turned up on the dyke.
Three cygnets found their way onto the Hammerton pond but two were caught by a fox; the third (now large) has since taken to hiding up in the reeds. Lord Hammerton doesn’t seem too concerned about this cygnet so there is speculation that he/she maybe a female; especially as Braveheart’s new love keeps coming into the Hammerton trying to kill the cygnet and making up to Lord Hammerton. She feeds with him, stays for a few days, then goes back to Braveheart; all very odd.
Update by Eileen Tyrer
Dovercourt and Mistley Swans in Essex, England
Letter and Equipment List from Sue Morgan Who Heat Deals With When They Have Injured Swans
A Friend in Need
In August of this year I was able to take a holiday with my family on the beautiful island of Gozo just off the coast of Malta. Since becoming involved in swan rescue, holidays are almost impossible due to the fact that many of the birds sustain such bad injuries that they have to remain permanently in our care. I am however extremely lucky to have some very good friends, whom, completely and very efficiently took over this unenviable task allowing me to take the two-week break. Helen Billing-Virley did the early morning shift, letting out the geese, ducks goat etc., at 5.00 am (yes 5.00 am) each day. Feeding takes an age with corn, barley and extruded wheat discs to be distributed, then the lettuce has to be shredded and the bread cut before being given to the menagerie, water bowls to be cleaned an re-filled, then general hosing down and tidying up. Then it was off to unlock the church before returning to her own home to see to her own animals, dog, rabbit, guinea pigs, chickens and ducks. Wonder what Helena did in her spare time that fortnight. What a star.
Coriander, Sharlands-Row took over the evening task of rounding up all the animals to put to bed safely away from Mrs Fox (whom we also feed in order that she does not try to catch and eat the wild mallards of which we seem to have collected around sixty). The task of getting everything shut in for the night is not an easy one. Hilary (our rescued goat) immediately chooses to run riot as soon as she knows it is time for bed. Charging around the house as though all the bats from hell are after her and lunging herself at the poor old geese. Who then take fright and jump into the stream or onto the pond and refusing to come onto land to enable one to get them to bed, when eventually caught one is sorely tempted to shove them into the oven rather than into their little house. However, Coriander did manage the task and survived to tell the tale. Then she also had to return home to tend her own animals, three dogs, five cats, two goats, rabbit and ducks. (Why do we do this I am often asked?) – No idea…Just a little mad perhaps.
Chris Jagger, Tollesbury took charge of my mobile phone, which enabled her to take care of the rescues, which arose during my absence – bet she wishes she hadn’t. There was a swan reported with a hole in it’s back, Chris along with Helena searched for miles in the area of Hoe and Paper Mill lock, no such swan was found. The calls are very often false alarms, which can be most frustrating. Then there was a duck in Colchester reported as having a ring caught over it’s foot, what type of ring I wonder, we will never know as this poor creature also was nowhere to be found. However, one such call-out came via the R.S.P.C.A., a goose with badly damaged wing and the following report was on my desk when I arrived home.
Informant – Tom – Canada Goose with broken wing, on Ardleigh reservoir in a gully, north end of Ardleigh, Wick Lane. Absolutely tipping down. Took 1½ hours to find, as informant could not give directions easily. Located bird in overflow sluice at side of reservoir, contained in run-off area but out of reach of swan hook. Water about 6½ feet deep. Called R.S.P.C.A., for suggestions, none offered, phoned police no answer, phoned Essex Fire Brigade, who laughed like a drain but arrived on the scene within 5 minutes. Torrential rain throughout rescue! Fireman suited up and on a line waded up to armpits into water and grabbed Goose. Loud, Cheers. Goose in very bad way. Thanked firemen - they were just wonderful.
Frantically rushed Goose to Sarah (our vet in Mersea) who decided to amputate wing. Got home tired, exhausted but very pleased and phoned Tom to inform him of outcome. Please collect Goose ASAP upon your return. This I did. When I saw my vet she confided to me that when Chris had taken the Goose to her she had pleaded that it should not be put to sleep. Susan will kill me if you do… don’t worry replied Sarah – I would not dream of such a thing as Susan would kill me also. Where do I get this reputation?
The little Goose survived this dreadful trauma and now lives happily in my garden with several other disabled birds.
Essential Equipment for the Novice Wildlife Rescuer
- Small bottle of brandy for courage, fortification, estimation, consolidation and any other ‘action’ you can think of
- Lightweight summer jacket because it will turn cold as soon as you try to capture the animal
- Heavy weight winter coat because it may be 80 degrees when you set out but will have turned to minus 4 when you begin your rescue.
- Waterproofs because the sun will be shining without a cloud in the sky when you begin but will deteriorate to hurricane conditions by the middle of your rescue.
- Heavy duty waterproofs because in the middle of August there will be a torrential downpour and you may drown
- Global Positioning system because neither the R.S.P.C.A., nor member of the public can give you accurate directions to find your rescue 7. 264 Ordinance Survey maps because you may end up in any part of the country.
- An extra two foot because no matter how long your swan pole, the bird will be a further two feet away from the end of it.
- Strong air-freshener for the car because the captured bird will register it’s protest by copiously pooing everywhere
- A complete change of clothing for when you land up to your neck in water, get soaking wet or pooed on by the said rescue.
- A crossword puzzle to complete whilst you wait for the rain to stop.
- A board game to play whilst you still wait for the rain to stop.
- Two mobile phones because your, first one, will have run down the battery at precisely the moment you need to make an emergency call.
- Full kit make-up, handy mirror, hairdryer and brush so as to be looking your best when Fire Brigade turns up.
Complete list of useful telephone numbers – suggestions as follows.
- R.S.P.C.A., who may not always be in a position to assist.
- Local vet for advice and emergency call-out.
- Essex Fire Brigade Headquarters who will laugh extensively at your predicament but will send help within five minutes.
- Essex Police who may not answer their phone.
- Your best friend because at times such as these you need to tell someone what an exciting life you lead.
- Your Mother, Father, Sister, Brother because they can sympathise with your situation and be very glad it’s not them.
- The phone number of the informant who spotted the rescue and is now sitting at home watching the TV whilst you’re still out trying to catch the blighter
- The local off-license so that you can send for supplies of alcohol before, during and after the rescue
- An extremely large bottle of brandy for when you get home.
All that is left for me to say Chris “welcome to wildlife rescue – you are learning fast. Sincere and grateful thanks to all you ‘girls’ for stepping in so efficiently, which enabled me to have a break – please can I go next year? (Only joking)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Arthur Russ