This past spring I began visiting Stoneybrook Audubon in Norfolk, Massachusetts specifically to photograph the Mergansers and Wood ducks as they nested, hoping to get a photo of newborn chicks when they emerged. The latter was not to happen, even though I visited the nesting areas almost daily for several weeks. I did get a number of nice photographs of the Mergansers as the Wood ducks were too far away for the 300mm with a 1.4 extender to get a decent photo. As the days got warmer, several other species of birds appeared, such as barn swallows, cedar waxwings, purple martins and a great blue or two. One cloudy morning as I got my gear together and started walking to the nesting area, a woman stopped me and said she just came from the pond area near the dam. She told me there was a swan there with cygnets riding on her back.( Just for informational purposes, a female swan is a “pen”, a male a “cob” and baby a “cygnet”.) I walked down the path toward the pond and there she was, eight cygnets in all with six on her back. She was crossing from one end of the pond to the other as I tried to anticipate her heading. I wanted to position myself between the trees, branches and leaves to get an unobstructed photo. I was lucky to get this photo as it was the only time in the weeks to follow that I would see her with the cygnets on her back.
Since then, every time I arrived at Stoneybrook the first thing I did was look for the swans and their cygnets before heading off to pursue the ducks. My next encounter with this family was early one morning. The male was there, with the female and cygnets off to the side, near the dam. The cob and a Canada goose had their eyes focused on each other. The goose swam through the reeds to open water stopping about 15 yards before the cob, who was not happy at the intrusion. The pen’s whole posture changed as her wings arched and became firm, her head slightly lowered as she seemed to stare directly ahead swimming toward the goose that retreated from his position, swimming in the opposite direction. The male swan(cob) picked up his momentum and seemed to pulse, surge his way through the water towards the goose who quickly swam into the nearby reeds, an area that the swan avoided. The cob would then swim nearer his family seemingly giving up as the reeds became the goose’s refuge. Soon after, the goose would paddle out to the middle of the pond appearing to “taunt” the male swan just by his presence. Thus the chase started over again, the swan pulsing with determination towards the goose that retreated quickly as he needed to get back to his area of safety. At times the cob would swim around the perimeter of the reeds, trying on occasion to enter that area, to no avail, as the goose obviously had the upper hand in that environment. These theatrics continued for an hour or more. I found myself enjoying being a witness to these behaviors. On a few occasions the male swan would spread his enormous wings and flap them in the water like he was flying in the air, forcing himself forward, wing propelled. He looked ominously menacing to me, not to mention to the goose who simply flew to his safe shelter. This attack then retreat behavior continued, a kind of game, which was serious, yet safe, as long as the goose moved quickly enough. By the time I left, it seems to have ended in a draw.
Over the following weeks I kept up to date with the whereabouts and well-being of this family. What started off with mom, dad and eight cygnets diminished over time. The nights were costly, as one by one the cygnets disappeared, subject to local predators, most likely turtles. The last time I photographed them, there were but four remaining. I thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected, unplanned experience of being at the right place at the right time to witness a small piece of the “life of swans”. The following photos exhibit the brute force, protectiveness and simple beauty of these birds. I hope you enjoy the written story that accompanies these photos. Conversely I hope the photos convey the story told.
Note: I have recently put together a calendar “Swans of Stoneybrook” which is being printed as I write. Should anyone is interested I will make it available for purchase in the near future.
All photographs were all taken with a Canon 5D Mark III using either a 300 mm f2.8 with a 1.4 exterder or a 70-200mm 2.8 with a 1.4 extender.