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A race against the rising water

A black swan frantically tries to save her nest and eggs as the river water rises following torrential rains. Colin Munro Photography

A black swan tends her eggs in the nest she has constructed along the banks of the River Exe. Colin Munro Photography

A black swan tends her eggs in the nest she has constructed along the banks of the River Exe.


A black swan frantically tries to save her nest and eggs as the river water rises following torrential  rains. Colin Munro Photography

A black swan frantically tries to save her nest and eggs as the river water rises following torrential rains.

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. A black swan frantically tries to save her nest and eggs as the river water rises following torrential  rains. Colin Munro Photography

The black swan tries to move her eggs out of the water pooling in the centre of her nest as the river rises.

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.
All images can be licenses from my Photoshelter website here Search black+swan

The Port Royal Pub, Exeter historic quay, at night.

The Port Royal Pub, Exeter historic quay, at night.
The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. Image MBI000910.

The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. Image MBI000910.

 The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. image No. MBI000910. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.

I took this pic a couple of nights ago. The last of the revellers had staggered home and the quayside was quiet.  It was warm and perfectly still, with a clear starry sky overhead.  Perfect for this type of image. So a little after midnight I pulled my gear together and climbed out of my boat’s saloon.  For a pic such as this, relying solely on distance sodium street lighting and faint starlight the iso needs to be cranked up a bit, but not so much as to make the image very noisy, and, obviously, the shutter speed way down.  Depth of field is not an issue as everything in the picture is distant, so the iris can be (and was) wide open.  I used an old 20mm prime lens, a favourite of mine.  The sodium lighting gives the pub and adjacent buildings an unearthly yellow hue.  I rather like  it this so did not atempt to change this, feeling it added to the rather surreal look.  Clearly the stars and buildings differ massively in brightness. To acheive useable exposure of both required melding two images at very different shutter speeds (four stops difference if memory serves me).  Some post processing of the starry sky was also required. The image was converted in to a grey scale image to remove colour noise, then reconverted back to an RGB image before melding.

Mute swans at midnight, River Exe, central Exeter, UK

Mute swans at midnight, River Exe, central Exeter, UK

Standing on the edge of suspension bridge crossing the River Exe in central Exeter a little after midnight attracts a little attention from passing dog walkers and late night revellers. Was I suicidal? Those that came closer breathed a sigh of relief when they saw my camera and tripod. No! I was obviously simply deranged; why else would I be pointing a camera down towards almost totally black water.

The swans of central Exeter are a glorious sight, skimming low over the water or congregating along the quayside to be fed by tourists, children, couples….pretty much everyone really. At night they float noislessly along the river like luminous ghosts. Sometimes they gather in large numbers, as in this picture, to squabble, converse, exchange ideas, debate, bicker, cogitate, fraternise and flirt – who knows? In early spring (as this was) the water is muddy and dark with suspended soil washed in from moorland upstream. At night the darkness enhances the already striking contrast between the pure white swans and the inky water.

Mute swans (Cygnus olor) gather at midnight, River Exe, Central Exeter, UK

Mute swans (Cygnus olor) gather at midnight, River Exe, Central Exeter, UK