Mating Mutes

The sun is shining a lot now and the snow has totally disappeared. Unlike two weekends ago which was bitterly cold and the lakes at Milton Country Park were partially iced over. It’s not always easy to see all the water birds but they had been coralled into smaller areas by the ice. Ducks abounded at the park with teal (Anas crecca, Dansk: krikand), gadwall (Anas strepera, Dansk: knarand), wigeon (Anas penelope, Dansk: pibeand) and tufted duck (Aythya fuligula, Dansk: troldand) in numbers, as well as the customary mallard (Anas platyrhynchos, Dansk: gråand). There were two highlights of the trip, a goldcrest was busy hunting in a bush just a few feet away and seemed undisturbed by our presence. Goldcrest (Regulus regulus, Dansk: fuglekonge) are beautiful little birds, they are our smallest breeding species, weighing 4-7 grams, and the northern populations migrate south in winter with Scandinavian individuals crossing the North Sea to overwinter in the UK.

Mute swan pair with a male tufted duck in the background

I didn’t manage to get pictures of the goldcrest, which is a pity, but I did manage to get pictures of the second highlight, which was a pair of mute swans (Cygnus olor, Dansk: knopsvane). And if the goldcrest is our smallest breeder, the mute swan is one of the biggest (if  not thee biggest), weighing in at a hefty 10.5-12kg, and breeding is what this pair had in mind.

Mute swans pair for life and the courtship dance is delightful to watch, they gracefully circled each other, repeatedly intertwining their necks:

And the dance culminated in mating. The male climbed on board the female and grasped the back of her neck with his beak, the whole thing lasted just a few seconds, which was just as well for the lady as her head was held underwater and she actually disappeared from view.

And after mating they rose up, breast to breast out of the water and continued the necking dance:

Finally, they relaxed back into the water and finished the ritual by bobbing their heads towards each other, and apart from the mating moments the whole thing was very calm and sedate. I think mutes are simply regal, they are very big, powerful, animals and I can’t hink of any creature which is quite so pristine.

And shortly after mating the male climbed out of the water onto the ice for a post-coital stretch up to his full height and opened his wings, surrounded by a retinue of coot (Fulica atra, Dansk: blishøne) and gadwall. A fitting finale to this series of captivating natural events.

19 responses to “Mating Mutes

  1. Finn, your final photo of the stretching male is exquisite. Your perseverance and patience have once again been rewarded. Thanks for bringing this to us!

    • I was very pleased to capture him in all his magnificence. I had wandered quite a long way round the lake and just happened to glance through a gap in the undergrowth and there he was at full stretch. As with so many nature observations serendipity intervened at just the right time.

  2. What an amazing series. Well captured Finn!

    • I was very lucky, they did their thing right in front of me, the timing was perfect. If you look for long enough nature has a way of rewarding you, and this was one of those wonderful moments where I was in the right place at the right time.

  3. That was a fantastic account Finn, I felt like I was witnessing the event for myself and that I was there with you. Next on the agenda has to be the dancing Great Crested Grebe performance, surely.

    • Funny you should mention the grebes, I was watching a pair of grebes yesterday on the same lake I took the swan pictures and I was hoping and hoping they would perform, but alas they were only interested in preening. There’s is a wonderful display that I’d love to capture on camera, so I shall keep looking.

  4. So glad there was no cigarette afterwards…that would have ruined it for this observer…. 😉

    Very nice photos, Finn…not a common sight in my experience…and yes, those are beautiful, regal birds.

  5. The second photo from the bottom is my favourite, beautiful!

  6. Beautiful post, words and pics… they are really rather moving…
    The paradise ducks mate for life in New Zealand, and like your swans are devoted to each other…

  7. Wow – this is exquisite!

  8. I didn’t quite know whether to blush or applaud Finn! ;). Our Australian swans are black and do the very same thing (sans snow and ice of course 😉 )… have you ever seen them? I think the queen has some in her pond thanks to our antipodian desire to send all things Aussie to Old Blighty ;). Love the post and love seeing mute swan “futures” in the making 😉

    • We have a few black swans over here which I believe may have been imported from your part of the world. I’ve seen them but I haven’t seen one for a while.

      I hope you blushed first and then applauded 🙂

  9. Fantastic! What a treat to see this.

  10. It’s a bit much that the poor lady’s head’s submerged isn’t it? That’s a splendid photo of the male stretching his wings. Swans are beautiful beasts.

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