Mute swan: not 
silent, but deadly


What a difference a few sunny days make, not just to the general feeling of wellbeing, but to the advancement of the seasons into spring.

On one such day last week, I heard the first singing chiffchaffs of the year; saw my first bumble bees, butterflies and ladybird, and the frogs have started spawning in a neighbour’s pond, but so far, not yet in my new pond.

By Sunday, the cooler weather had returned with a stiff breeze, for the last of my monthly winter wildfowl counts.

At my first pond, where peace and tranquillity usually reign, noise and bustle were the order of the day.

More than 50 black-headed gulls had moved in and were beginning to argue over the best nesting sites, while two whooper swans tried to get a bit of peace and quiet to feed.

At my next, bigger loch, it was much quieter with no gulls present and here, the larger group of a dozen whooper swans were allowed to feed more serenely in the reed bed.

The only raucous sound came when an unseen water rail broke into its unusual squealing call.

The mating season obviously approaches.

Finally at Lindean Reservoir, which was my final port of call, I was surprised to find a sextet of greylag geese in residence for the first time.

Their residency, however, was short lived.

The two local mute swans were also feeling the approach of the mating season and were not at all happy at these six large interlopers on their territory.

The cob puffed himself up into full aggression mode and launched himself at the unsuspecting geese.

A mute swan in attack mode is a force to be reckoned with and proved to be too much for the visitors, who took to the air with much splashing and honking, never to be seen again.

Later the same day, I motored down to Newcastleton, intending to have a walk in the forest there, but the rain came on and I took shelter in The Grapes.

Suitably refreshed, I came out to find that it was still wet and windy, so a detour home via Langholm Moor was called for.

At a suitable location I pulled over to have coffee and a bun, hoping I might catch a glimpse of the speciality of the area – the hen harrier.

After about 20 minutes, I was considering moving on, when I spotted a bird flying low above the roadside verge, heading in my direction.

Once I had it in my binoculars I could immediately see that it was a pale grey bird with black, pointed wingtips and white underneath.

It was a male hen harrier!

It kept coming towards the car, eventually flying a few yards in front of the bonnet, before continuing along the roadside in the other direction.

It was only then I realised my camera was within reach on the back seat.

Too late!

I had missed the shot of a lifetime, but what a thrill it was to see such a magnificent bird at such close