The Bewicks are here. Every year, they fly in from Russia, coming just before the cold, racing the worst of the weather. The winds that carry them from the distant north east also tend to bring us the snow. They come by night, navigating by the stars, and the young swans travel with their parents to learn the route. It is not a matter of instinct, but of knowing.
As I write, a hundred or so swans are a matter of yards from me, out grazing in fields near the canal. I hear them calling to each other at dawn and dusk. The whiteness of them against the fading light is ghostly and haunting.
One of the older guys in the village told me that when he was a child, the swans came in their thousands, and flew around the church spire sometimes. He spoke with wonder in his voice, and sorrow for a magic now almost departed. The swans come in hundreds now, not thousands. Years of hunting, years of pollution and the legacy of lead fishing weights has taken a toll. Large and slow flying, they can’t easily change course to dodge things like pylons and wind turbines. Making those more visible from a distance is helping, but there’s so much to do, and the swans do not have all the time in the world.
As a child I used to go to the wildfowl trust to see the swans each winter. I have a lot of good memories of doing that, and it’s lovely being able to take my son to see them as well. He’s captivated by their magic, fascinated by the beak patterning that allows you to identify individuals, and far more intrigued by the facts and figures than I ever was. I wonder if one day I will get to be a grandmother. I wonder if there will be swans still coming then, and whether I will get to share them with a future generation. With climate change taking a toll on so many habitats, there’s no knowing.
I watch the swans grazing in the fields, and I hope that there will be more of them next year, and the year after, and that in a hundred years when I am long gone, the swans will still be here.