Meanwhile in the Countryside: King of the River

Photo: authors own

Swans mate for life don’t they? We all know that. But then, that’s said of humans too and I think it’s fair to say that not all of us match up to the ideal.

Here on the River Coln we are witnessing a daily drama that looks set to run as long as “The Archers”, and with as many plot twists. It all began with Dave and Betty, our two Town Swans.

Here they are, doing what Cotswold swans should, posing prettily in front of an old, stone building with Betty on the nest and Dave, uxoriously attentive, nearby. This is their third year at this site by the bridge. Every year they overwinter on the river then, in March, courtship begins with gracefully curling necks and they start to re-build the mound of river grasses that is their nest. Every year six or seven eggs are laid and Betty begins the six-week task of incubation – but sadly, and despite her care, no babies have hatched these past three seasons. Tests on the eggs indicated no embryo was ever present and the word on the block is that Dave shoots blanks. Oh dear.

Next on the scene, a pair of young swans arrives from down-river. Tentatively at first they edge cautiously into Big Dave’s territory. Breeding season over, he ignores them for a while and they gain confidence. Maybe the older pair is on the wane and there’s room for some new tenants on this stretch. Then Dave is back. With a vengeance. He sails into view like a great white frigate, wings raised and speeding downstream with the current to his advantage. The youngsters, lets call them Chris and Lulu (my granddaughter insists) turn and scarper, but this isn’t enough for Dave.

He spots promising new breeding stock and decides he’ll have some of that, it’s time he had some cygnets to be proud of and Betty’s not producing the goods. He chases after Chris like the pub bully after a skinny 17-year-old kid, grabs him and administers a beating including not-so-simulated drowning. Chris is lucky to get away with his life.

For days, the fight goes on up and down the river. Chris challenges bravely but Dave has Lulu under guard and won’t let him near. Poor Betty is abandoned and hangs out with Chris (clearly no ‘chemistry’ there), not knowing what to do.

Dave tries all his masculine skills to woo Lulu round. He corrals her in a quiet corner, sits low in the water and ‘beckons’ by flipping his part-spread wings seductively, first one, then the other, all the while with his eye on the lady. But she’s really not that into him. After an hour of this, with no particular result, Dave loses patience and tries knocking some sense into her. “Oh for goodness sake woman! Flowers! Chocolates! Romance! What more do you want?”. This is not a pretty example of domestic bliss.

This drama is ongoing here on the Coln and likely won’t be resolved until next breeding season, or even the one after. Will Dave manage to keep Lulu and breed successfully with her, restoring his reputation as King of the River? Will Chris persist until he grows strong enough to knock the old man of his perch? And what will happen to poor, abandoned Betty? Will she find another mate and finally have those cygnets she’s worked so hard for?

Whatever this story is, it’s not one of peaceful, monogamous bliss!