The human cost of the wettest summer in 100 years, lost income and damaged property, has been highin the Southwest. The cost to wildlife has also been high. The mute swans that gather on the River Exe in the centre of Exeter have failed to raise a single clutch this year. At the end of September, an Austalian Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) attracted considerable interest as she tried to brood a small clutch of eggs along the riverbank. The weather was warm, and drier than it had been for most of the summer. perhaps she might be lucky. However Sunday and Monday the 23rd and 24th were to test her to the limit. Around 2am on the morning of the 23rd the rain becan to fall and the wind started to howl. For more than 30 hours it rained, and as it rained the river rose. By the early hours of the 24th she was already frantic, trying desperately to shore up her nest. By 10am the nest was still there, but floating. Although probably exhausted she moved incessantly, plucking reed blades of the bottom, trying vainly to build up her nest. The eggs were still same, but became submerged when she sat on the nest. She was engaged in a desperate race to raise the nest before the eggs lost too much heat.
Although the rains had now stopped, at least temporarily, millions of gallons were still flowing down the river from high ground and so the river was continuing to rise. Passerby stopped to watch, and throw her bread, which is probably all she had time to eat since she had laid her eggs. No-one knew whether the eggs were fertile. She was the only black swan on the river all summer; tagging along at a safe distance with the larger mute swans that congregated along the quayside. But hybrids between mute and black swans were believed to have occurred in captivity. So it was just possible. And although the odds seemed against her, it was still possible her eggs main survive the flood.
This story will me expanded soon – and the whole story of the black swan and her nest will be told.
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