The Majestic Whooper Swan
By Awake! correspondent in Britain
THE water of Grindon Lake—tucked in among the rolling Northumbrian hills, not far from the border between England and Scotland—reflected the russets and browns of the surrounding bracken-clad hills. As I watched, greylag geese were cropping waterweeds alongside flocks of snipes, lapwings, and golden plovers.
Suddenly, as the mist slowly began to clear, a wild calling reached my ears. It was the trumpeting song of whooper swans flying low over the hills. They looked the very epitome of beauty as they glided in to splash down on wings that span upwards of eight feet. [2.5 m] In mid-October these swans fly south from Russia, Iceland, and northern Europe when the northern waters freeze over. Here they find food—water plants, mollusks, seeds, and insects.
The 29 swans on the lake in front of me presented a delightful picture as I focused my binoculars on the triangular yellow patches at the base of their bills. They looked so stately with heads held high on straight necks.
At one time the whooper was a breeding bird in Britain but became extinct here in the 18th century. So far it has not reestablished itself. At nesting time whoopers are very aggressive birds, fiercely protecting their nest of five to seven eggs, and later their cygnets, against potential enemies.
Whooper parents work together to build a nest of broken sticks, either on an island or directly on water where they construct a floating island strong enough to support a man. There the yellowish eggs are incubated for from 35 to 42 days. Both parents also tend the young before their offspring fly off after about ten weeks.
As the sun set in crimson glory behind the ruined Roman fort of Vercovicium and dusted the lake and its swans in a gentle pink, I paused to reflect on the beauty of life and the marvel of such a majestic creation.