The Wiltshire Avon flows through Chippenham on its way to the sea at the Bristol Channel. At Avonmouth, to be precise. In my town it is not particularly large and not especially impressive, but it is a pleasant stream, lined with willows in the manner of many English rivers. In the middle of town the river flows though a park where waterbirds make their home. There are coots and moorhens, as well as ducks, mostly of the mallard and mallard cross variety.
But the river is also home to a few mute swans that enjoy being fed by small children. Not on small children, you understand. The swans nest in the quieter reaches of the stream out of the town, whilst the coots regularly nest right by the bridge on the High street and seem not to mind an audience for their family life.
The resident swans are joined each autumn by overwintering birds who have no doubt heard about the goodly supply of bread and chips from passers by. Unlike humanity, this diet doesn’t appear to have a fattening effect on the swans. I guess they are just supplementing their natural food when it is scarce, and return to swan food when they leave in Spring.
Last week I counted 7 swans on the river as I walked over the bridge, but today there were 23, a mixture of adults and this year’s cygnets. The young are now as large as the adults, unlike the dinky little fellow above who was photographed at Abbotsbury in the Spring of last year, but they are still in their juvenile plumage of soft coffee and cream colours. They are called Mute swans, but the young today were quietly vocal, peeping gently to each other, like children in a library.
“Swan feathers played an incalculable role in England’s cultural development. It was from them hardened in hot sand, that quill pens were cut. “