Upriver, a pair of Mute Swans is nesting. Their nest is an untidy island of sticks, about four feet in diameter. It’s a good spot. A kink in the river prouces a slow current here, and a spiked steel fence and yards of dense brambly undergrowth make this backwater inaccessible from the river bank. From this side of the river, the nest is only visible from a jut of granite. Even then, I have to lean out to view it.
The pen sits on her eggs. Sometimes the cob is nowhere to be seen, though I think he’s always nearby. Other times he patrols, meets my curious gaze with his wary one.
They’ve been there a while. The eggs must be due to hatch any day now.
But on Thursday, the rain started. By yesterday morning, the water level had risen by at least six inches. The nest was only an inch or two away from being swamped and there were the swans, valiantly snatching beakfuls of flotsam to shore up their nest before it was submerged.
Gale force winds yesterday, and the rain kept falling and the river kept swelling, a dirty rush of brown water with a cargo of fallen branches, giddy footballs, whole trees. Then, sometime last night, the rain stopped.
At 6.30 this morning, I went up there. I was sure the nest must have been washed away. I didn’t want to see but I had to know. So I looked.
And the nest is still there, a bit smaller and a bit taller. The pen sleeping with her head tucked back into one wing.
This river is only 40 miles long so its levels rise and fall quickly. Today there’s no rain, only sunshine, and already the river is shrinking back, quieting. But the weather forecast says there’s more rain to come, so the swans’ battle to bring their brood safely into the world isn’t over yet.
I hope they make it.
UPDATE: I went back this afternoon. Both cob and pen were off the nest so I found a way through the undergrowth to see the nest more clearly. There are no eggs visible on the main part of the nest any more, though it’s possible that the pen might have covered them with nest material before leaving to feed. Two eggs that have rolled down the side of the nest and are resting just above water level where they cannot be incubated. It doesn’t look good for this clutch, but it may be that some eggs have survived. We’ll see in due course. If all the eggs have been lost, they may have a second clutch.