We are taking a break from eels now and will talk about swans. Hever Castle has a very healthy resident population of Mute Swans and indeed in the last couple of years the numbers residing in the lake over winter have increased considerably. We are not entirely clear whether this is to do with the lake being a good place for food for the swans, and certainly the weed has grown in the last few years, or whether it is just that there has been some particularly successful breeding two and three years ago. Sadly this year was not a good year, principally because of the very high rainfall in the spring and early summer. All but one of the nests on the river and lake were washed out and only one cygnet was raised. We suspect this cygnet only survived because it hatched just before a flood. Certainly we have not seen any other cygnets at all on the lake this summer.
The moat fared slightly better where our resident pair of swans, who last year did not have a particularly successful breeding, did manage to hatch three this year, all of whom survived. This pair of swans, called Anushka and Boris, is believed to be, at least in part if not in whole, a sub-species of Mute Swan called a Polish Swan. We are told that Polish Swans are different from Mute Swans in that they have much paler legs, almost slightly pink, rather than the darker, black legs more typical of the Mute Swan. The most obvious difference is that their cygnets are much closer to white, rather than the usual grey. The trio of youngsters this year are particularly fascinating as two of them are nearly white and from a distance look like adults now, while their bigger (presumably) brother appears to be almost a dark brown, which as far as we can tell is darker than the usual grey that cygnets are at this time. The important thing is that all three of them and indeed their parents are very healthy and, after a period of approximately two months absence, they have re-appeared on the outer moat.
Anushka and particularly Boris used to be quite a troublesome pair and when they were in their teens they were actually expelled from Hever because they were mugging tourists, demanding their food and even walking into the restaurants! We are confident it was nothing to do with a statement on the quality of our food that on one day they left a deposit there of an unsavoury nature!
Despite being taken down to Tonbridge, they returned two days later, so further advice was sought from a local swan sanctuary and the consensus was that these swans, despite all the greenery in the moat and the vast quantities of bread and sandwiches they stole, were actually quite hungry. Since last spring, they have been well fed with proper swan food and they have become less unruly. Giving them the right amount of swan food is a fine art, as they unfortunately left this summer for no obvious reason, leaving the algae to grow slightly more than usual; in the past they seemed to like eating the green algae that floats on the surface of the moat.
Should anyone have any more information about Polish Swans and particularly why one of the cygnets appears to be darker than even a normal cygnet, we would appreciate hearing from you. The best place to respond to is on our Twitter or Facebook pages.
On a final note, I am pleased to say that we have started to feed the swans again since their return. They do not always hang around the moat; they quite often swim off to the river from time to time, so if they are not here, you will just have to visit again!
STOP PRESS! We note that one of Boris and Anushka’s daughters has left the family after a mother and daughter spat and is now sulking halfway down the lake.