Swan Life

I saw the Union Canal swan family on my walk home at the weekend. This year the usual mating couple of adult swans had nine cygnets, back in the early spring, and I have been taking photos of them and watching them over the last few months. Back in mid-May they were just these tiny little balls of adorable fluff:

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By June they were growing, the fluff moulting out and their grey feathers starting to appear, as they got larger:

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By August they had grown to around the same size as their mum and dad – here they are being hand-fed by the lady who runs the Union Canal Swans twitter feed which reports on them:

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And now in September they have learned to fly, with most of the babies having now left the canal and gone off to find their own spot, probably one of the nearby lochs like those on Arthur’s Seat, where large groups of young swans stay until they mature (and the grey feathers go to white), then they find a mate and strike out to find their own spot, like their mum and dad have on the canal near me. I passed them at the weekend, and now there is only one cygnet still with the parents, the left have flown the nest. It’s remarkable to see them go from tiny creatures to these large, elegant birds taking wing in just a few months, a small miracle right here in the middle of the city, but at the same time it is also sad to see them leave.

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Family Outing Vid

New life

Out walking along the nearby Union Canal, and at last managed to get some decent photos of the swans with this year’s cygnets. I’ve managed to bag pics of them in previous years (I wonder if it is the same swan couple who return to this area each year?), and had heard from friends that they and their babies were in the area, but each time I walked along that way I didn’t encounter them, until a few days ago.

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The whole family was on the ramp by the towpath, across from the old boathouse at Harrison Park, some preening themselves while out of the water, others sleeping, while the mother and father swans kept guard so nobody got too close. I managed to take several photos, the cygnets still in the utterly adorable “fluffy” stage of down rather than full feathers yet, beautiful wee things. Amazing the magical sights you can find just a few moments from your home…

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I’ve seen the swans and the ducks along this stretch of the canal with their babies a number of times over the years, but each spring it is still something special and quite wonderful to see, and with so much uncertainty and trouble in the world it’s no bad thing to be reminded of the magic and beauty of nature all around us.

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And there goes the whole family, off for a wee paddle down the canal after their rest!

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Growing…

Remember the tiny young cygnets I photographed back in early June, sleeping in their nest among the reeds by the side of the canal near my home?

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I snapped them again about a month after that, swimming along the canal with their parents, now shedding the adorable fluffball look and starting to grow in their proper feathers:

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That last one was early July. Tonight I saw the whole Swan Family again as I walked home alongside the canal, one parent and cygnets all snoozing by the side of the canal and on the towpath, while one of the parents kept a watchful eye open:

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It’s as well one of the parents was on guard duty – most walkers, joggers and cyclists moved over onto the nearby grass to give the birds plenty of space, but one utter arsebag of a cyclist came charging at them full speed, with a “out my way” look on his face, he tried to zip past them only inches away. And the parent swan reared up, huge wings opened up, started hissing and lunged to peck his legs. Frightened the hell out of him, you better believe he finally swerved out the way then. Just pure stupidity and arrogance, he could have avoided them easily. Stupid thing to do, he could have harmed one of the swans, and swans can be quite bad tempered anyway if you get too close, but to do it to one guarding its children is just asking for the swan to have a go at you!

Frankly I’d have happily shoved him and his bike into the canal myself if I could. Anyway, most people passing were more considerate, gave them space and were clearly enjoying seeing such a lovely little natural bit of beauty and wonder. Quite lovely to just see things like this on your walk home in the middle of the city, from tiny, fluffy baby cygnets to rapidly growing youngsters, won’t be long before they are taking wing themselves.

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So. Much. Fluffiness

Walking home a couple of weeks ago along the Union Canal at Fountainbridge I came across the lovely sight of Mr and Mrs Swan taking their new fledglings along for a wee paddle, a flotilla of fluffy cuteness:

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Then this afternoon I found this little natural wonder: the fluffy cygnets all curled up together in their nest in some reeds by the edge of the canal, dozing in the warm afternoon sunlight as their parents floated in the water nearby, keeping an eye on their young charges. What a lovely little wonder to just come across…

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And here is one of the proud parents:

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Low tide

Musselburgh harbour at very low tide – looks almost like you could walk out off the beach and right into the harbour mouth – I don’t recommend it, tried that once at low tide, but the sand near the entrance becomes increasingly ‘sinky’ and unwilling to tolerate the weight of any creature heavier than a mudlarking bird

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I’ve understood how the tides work since I was a boy reading my astronomy books, but even now as an adult I still find it a little bit magical that somewhere like a harbour can become absolutely empty of water, the boats left on the mud, high and dry, tilted over on their keels, awaiting the return of the water to float them again and make them useful.

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Chap sitting by the sea wall looking out, while the harbour mouth awaits the salty kiss of the returning tide…

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Meanwhile nature makes good use of the changing conditions tidal spaces bring each day (twice), with birds probing at the wet sand in the harbour floor with their specially adapted long beaks, looking for supper. Odd to see them walking pass the bottom of the hulls of boats knowing that in just a few hours this will all again be submerged, the floor hidden and the boats bobbing up and down on the water. The birds had colouring on their feathers that made them blend in very well with their surroundings, had to wait for them to walk near a small muddy pool to try and get some contrast to make them stand out even this little amount:

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Quack quack

Walking along the Union Canal this weekend, ducks and other birds (sadly I do not know everything and bird types is one area I am weak in – anyone know what these black waterfowl with the white bills are?) swimming around. The ducks go past, the black birds swim past, their little red-orange webbed feet just visible through the greenish water, working away like the paddles on an old Mississippi steamboat. Then suddenly they start diving. Ploop! One minute they are there, next moment only concentric ripples spreading outwards on the surface of the water to show where they had been, then suddenly they pop up again elsewhere, like a WWII German U-Boat doing an emergency surface. I had a sudden urge to do my Jack Hawkins impression and call for the depth charges…

It was very hard to capture these sudden movements on the camera, so I switched to video mode instead. You can hear a voice at the start which is a tiny little girl with her dad shouting “quack quacks!” in delight. Nearby some narrowboats which are lived on the whole year long, the restored old Leamington Lift Bridge (I don’t know why but it gives me such pleasure to see it raised and for holidaying folks to sail under it), the floating restaurant barge which cruises at the weekend, new waterfront cafes, offices and homes, the remains of the old Scottish and Newcastle brewery slowly being taken apart as the area is remade (Sean Connery lived just right round the corner from this spot as a boy and delivered milk in the area – now he comes back to the nearby cinema on a red carpet for the Film Festival every year). And this is all a short walk to my home in one direction and to Edinburgh Castle the other way. The little marvels we can see even in the middle of the city if we only stop and look for a moment and share that simple, childlike delight in these little surprises and presents the world offers us.

(apologies for the poor quality – my camera does very good video but that means big files so I need to reduce it so much to fit on YouTube it never looks right – oh well, it’s free!)

Birds a go go

The changing of the tides at Cramond just by the edge of the rivers Forth and Almond on the edge of Edinburgh, bringing out a huge number of birds from graceful swans to howling seagulls (ye gods, what a racket!) and some ducks.In the 2nd century AD you’d have seen Romans moored hereabouts on their way to the Antonine Wall.

To the right of this picture is a causeway which is submerged by high tide, leading out to an island which still has the shells of hastily constructed buildings for gun emplacements to protect the Rosyth Naval Base just up the river a bit further. I used to cycle out here with friends when I was a student (and fit!); I still remember going out to the island at low tide one day with my friend Leonie. As we walked over to the far side we heard music – live music, not a stereo brought by someone having a beach party. We cleared some bushes and came down the far side to see a group of old WW2 buildings on the edge, each one with musicians in a doorway playing away while a friend filmed them with a video camera as yachts sailed past and further out in the deep channel tankers sailed slowly by; quite a surreal experience.

We went off for a good walk past the harbour and up the Almond, past the weir and into the gorge – I’ll probably post some more pics from that bit later on, but when we came back down the way the tide had all but gone out and you could walk to the island again.