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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wed 27th Nov 2013 - All Saints' Church, Freshwater.

Today's Green Gym was held at All Saints' Church in Freshwater in what is one of the most beautiful church yards on the Island.  The task of keeping this up together rests with Cemetery Wardens, these volunteers hold regular work parties but today we descended to aid them in their tasks.  We were scrub bashing an area in the meadow as part of its management and have created some wonderful views in the bargain.

Carrie's Nature Note

Freshwater Church backs on to the Yar Estuary, and the adult and juvenile mute swans were looking hopefully for some food.  Mute swans are well known in the British Isles and are the our largest bird, with adult females weighing around 9kg, and males around 11kg, although weights of up to 15kg have been recorded.  For many centuries in Britain they were domesticated for food, with individuals being marked by nicks on their webs (feet) or beak to indicate ownership. These marks were registered with the Crown and a Royal Swanherd was appointed. Any birds not so marked became Crown property, hence the swan becoming known as the "Royal Bird".  They were rounded up at a swan-upping, and this tradition is still practised by The Worshipful Companies of the Vintners and Dyers on the River Thames in London.  As well as being a source of food other parts of the bird were used; feathers as quills for writing; the leathery web for making purses and wing bones for making whistles.

They normally start to breed at three years old, and a huge nest is constructed between March and May, in which the pen (female) lays a clutch of normally between 3 and 7 eggs.   When hatched the cygnets are grey and downy, but this is soon replaced by brown feathers, which gradually turn white during the next 12 months. The parent birds strongly protect their offspring for the first few months but will drive them away by the following breeding season.  It is a popular misconception that mute swans pair for life and that a bird will pine to death when its partner dies. This is far from true, with some birds having as many as 4 mates in a lifetime, however research does show that well established pairs tend to be more successful at raising their young.

Many thanks to Carrie and Mark for the editorial and photographs this week.

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