Swanning About In Pittville Park
By Max Le Grand crack
George and Zelda would never be seen in the polygamous Kingdom of Swaziland. What’s that got to do with walking my dog in Pitville Park? Let me enlighten you.
Few people are aware of the oldest monarchy in Africa. The Kingdom of Swaziland’s current ruler is, His Majesty King Mswati III. The ruler has thirteen wives at the last count and umpteen children. So multi-marriages work for the monarch and his subjects. As for George and Zelda, they are creatures of monogamy. Yes, swans are some of the most loyal of creatures on this earth.
The couple occupy one of the islands on Pittville Lake. Often seen on the shore is Sally, “the swan lady”, who has reliable knowledge of these gracious wild fowl. During the autumn of 2008, when old Mac and Ha’penny were in residence, tragedy struck. A fisherman cast his line. Ha’penny saw food, swallowed the bait and 18 feet of line. She never survived. So Mac had the lonely job of dispersing their brood. During a daily constitutional with my dog, I spotted three adult swans cruising on the lake.
Zelda realised Mac was rich with his big lake and decided to muzzle in with an ulterior motive. She found Mac to be a grouchy old fellow. The grieving swan was attacked by the third party. With the result George and Zelda claimed their newly acquired territory.
Regular Pittville Park dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, lovers and twitchers, mistakenly thought Mac had found a new mate. In fact, it was George and Zelda. They were christened as such, because the rings on their respective legs, were marked G and Z.
They are the largest member of the duck family. The mallards at Pittville, are more commonly seen in New Zealand. They have turned out to be ‘the boat ducks’. These illegal immigrants were second to the sheep population down under, while the human species 100 years ago was third at around a million.
The mallards found their way through the tropics to the old country, and then proliferated in our ponds and lakes for many generations. Understandably, swans create an almighty commotion if you impersonate a ‘quack’ near them. Mute swans ‘hiss’ at you if they get upset.
George is the cob, while Zelda is the pen. I can’t tell one swan from another. Apparently, the cob is arginally larger than the pen. I find it hard to distinguish genders, even when they go bottoms up in the water, to feed upon submerged plant life.
Come April 2009, Zelda was seen nesting alone on the artificial island in Pittville Lake. While George simply swanned about until it was his incubation shift. This laborious process goes on until the cygnets hatch at around five weeks.
We knew when the babes had arrived. My dog ran to the lakeshore growling. Sure enough, George and Zelda were parading their new brood around the lake. There is a feeling of spring in the air, as passing ladies cock their heads to one side, and utter the time honoured “Ahhhhhh” at the sight of these balls of fluff.
Throughout the summer we witnessed the family mature. During this period, if my dog so much as went near the growing cygnets, a great flapping of wings would frighten him off. By September, the time had come, for the white downy speckled young swans to seek their independence. One day, there were four. George’s persuasive instinct began to work. I guess Zelda thought “thank goodness for that”. The offspring are extremely reticent at leaving their home waters.
Now, in 2010, the gestation period started all over again in April. I guess the mallards must feel left out when the cygnets hatch and get all the attention. The swans have become a part of the scene in Pittville Park. Especially these days, when the south shore has been made an assault course. At five in the morning, the swans join the mallards who think it is great fun jumping on the rocks and clambering over the logs. It is a part of life’s evolution in Cheltenham, that cycles go from one year to the next.