Swanning About

Some years ago I saw a TV program about a man with a superb sounding job: he was the swanherd at Abbotsbury swannery. We are only about 20 miles from Abbotsbury and were very keen to see visit the swans. Besides, we’d have to drive back to the ring road around Dorchester where we’d spied a very-rare-in-these-parts McDonalds with its wonderful McWiFi. It would also make a nice break for our legs from tramping the Coast Path.

Swans have apparently been at Abbotsbury since before Henry VIII. Monks had been keeping (and eating) swans a while when good ol’ Henry came along, dissolved the monastery and grabbed the swans. He made a present of his booty to some local mover and shaker whose name I forget.

IMG_5852_Massed_Swans IMG_4755_Approach_flightpath IMG_4771_Touchdown The current swanherd, accompanied by what appear to be a couple of trainee swanherds, was wired for sound and gave a very interesting talk about the swans as they were fed with wheat, which happens three times a day. We were at the midday feed. Being spring, the swans are busy nesting and egg-laying. Nesting in a large colony is not swans’ normal habit but here it seems to be quite natural, maybe because of the lengthy history. Abbotsbury lies on an 8 mile lagoon protected by Chesil Beach. The lagoon is shallow and contains a lot of easily accessible natural grazing for the swans so the wheat is a bit on an extra luxury. Though ringed, the swans are free to fly away and remain simply because they want to. Currently there are thought to be about 600 birds there, with between 100 and 150 pairs nesting. The numbers rise to about 1500 in winter. 5 Australian black swans have also gate crashed the party and, though not encouraged, are not turned away. Unlike our aircraft, the swans were flying, especially when food was on offer. Cheap it ain’t @ £9.50 each but it’s a fascinating experience.

Our legs didn’t get the entire day off. After the swans we called in to Burton Bradstock and wandered along a bit more coast. Our target, West Bay, turned out to be particularly dull-looking but on the way we passed a golf course with one particular hole that looked very far from dull. The tee was up on the high part of the cliff, the green was about 75 feet below; there was no fairway being a simple par 3. 🙂 As a non-golfer, I watched, fascinated.

IMG_5895_Seagull_display On our return walk from the less-than-enticing West Bay, we watched what appeared to be a little seagull courtship. One, I’m guessing a male, was repeatedly flying back and forth, his beak loaded with nesting material, in front of what I’m also assuming to be a couple of females.

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