A Final Farewell
THE MISTRAL STORY…
As told by Patroller Eileen Tyrer
In October 2001 HEAT
provided the town with an up-date on Mistral and her cygnets, as so
many people have shown such a great interest in them, and they have
given a great many people a lot of pleasure, especially the many visitors
to the area. They have become quite celebrities. HEAT would like to
thank all the people who have fed and kept and eye on Mistral and her
cygnets on the ponds at Dovercourt. They have grown into five lovely
young swans and are flying extremely well now; they can often be seen
taking off together and returning late in the afternoon:
I am sure everyone has noticed that there are now two adult swans on the ponds, and you have all been wondering about the extra adult. We are pleased to announce that Mistral has another mate; he came in on the week of October 11th 2001 so we decided to call him Liberty. He is an extremely handsome creature, quite feisty and is already standing guard if Mistral is eating.
Obviously Mistral and Liberty will now try to discourage the cygnets to stay in the area and will often be seen chasing them away. This is a perfectly natural thing for adult swans to do prior to the next breeding season. Eventually the time will come when they will all leave to find their own territory and a mate. Until that time comes it will not hurt to feed them, including of course Mistral and Liberty, especially as the weather is getting colder and it may become difficult for them to find food. We hope that Mistral and Liberty will have a family next year, possibly in the same area, we will just have to wait and see what they will decide to do, only time will tell.
THE ARRIVAL OF FREEDOM
MAY 2002 UPDATE – With regards to Mistral and Liberty, they eventually departed, the babies going one by one too pastures new. Mistral and Liberty disappeared for a while then turned up on and off for quite a while, but a much older male turned up on the scene and seemed to be chasing Liberty off. They all disappeared again for along time, and then Mistral reappeared on the dikes with the older male. Mistral has always built her nest on the inner pond on Hammertons land, which she can get to from the dike in West End Lane.
In January 2002 three Hooper Swans turned up which is quite unusual. Eileen from HEAT had never seen one before let alone three. One of them disappeared quite quickly. The other two hung round Mistral and her new mate, but one Hooper was always trying to chase the other Hooper away, eventually he got the message and left. You cannot tell the sex of a Hooper like you can our native mute swans unless you turn them upside down, not something to be recommended.
The remaining Hooper was forever trying to chase Mistral and she seemed to be afraid of him. Mistral would constantly put her new mate (Liberty) or even Eileen between her and the Hooper. She did wonder if it was a female as Mistral’s new mate seemed to tolerate it, although he had got hold of its neck on several occasions in a very half hearted way, but the Hooper stood its ground and would then give forth an incredible call, this went on for several weeks. Eileen commented that it sounded more like a chicken that was being strangled. HEAT contacted the swan rescue people and informed them of what was happening. The Hooper should have been flying off to Scandinavian countries or even the Baltic area from where they originally come - they normally only turn up in the Scotland area in the winter.
A TRAGIC ACCIDENT (Liberty), Freedom takes over
Eileen received a call from the Swan Rescue asking if she would check out the dikes as a swan had been reported dead and its mate was standing over it very distressed. It was about 9 p.m. and quite dark, she called a couple of HEAT members and arranged to meet them down there. They were armed with a powerful torch; and searched along the dikes but no luck. So they tried the pond on Hammertons land, which is very remote and extremely rough going. When they finally arrived they swept the pond with the torch beam and suddenly spotted it. The Swan was in the water lying with its neck back towards its wings as if asleep. One member hung on to Eileen while she reached to pull the swan in, after a bit of a struggle they managed to get him. They laid him on the grass and inspected him by torchlight. They could find no evidence of foul play and no sign of blood so he had not been in a fight. It looked as if he had just gone to sleep and died. On inspection they found a hole in the web of his feet, which to their horror and fears confirmed its identity as Mistrals new mate. They couldn’t see Mistral or the Hooper and shining a torch on her now as it was so dark would only stress her out even more. They rang the Swan Rescue as soon as I reached home with the swan in their car and voiced their fears about the Hooper still being around and Mistral now on her own again.
The following day, early in the morning about 4.30 am, Eileen took her dogs for a quick walk then made her way to the pond again. On arriving she could see Mistral on a very large nest on the island in the middle of the pond and to her horror the Hooper was still hanging around. She rang the Swan Rescue and discussed the problem of Mistral and the Hooper – It was decided to monitor the situation. The following day when Eileen arrived at the pond early in the morning to her horror the Hooper stood over Mistral and for awhile she could not tell if Mistral was alive or dead - you can imagine her relief to see Mistral suddenly move. They were still not sure how the Hooper would behave with Mistral and if she had laid any eggs would they be by her old mate which, was a Mute Swan or had she been mated by the Hooper - only time was going to tell.
The swans have now been monitored on a daily for several weeks, and the Hooper seems to have taken on the duty of protecting Mistral. He has even repaired the nest on a regular basis and gets quite upset if other swans, seagulls and ducks fly overhead, or they get to close. On Saturday 18th May Mistral was in the water with her newly hatched chicks - There were six of them but HEAT are still unable to tell who the father is. The Hooper was standing guard and Mistral and the babies seemed un-perturbed by his presence. They have been watched everyday now and the Hooper is very protective of mother and babies. I have sinced learned that Mistral’s old mate had taken off from the pond and had come down to land, over shot and missed the water. We can only assume that he injured himself internally when he landed. With regards to the Hooper swans HEAT have been told that someone on Horsea Island had a tame pair of Hoopers and they bred and produced young. It has been suggested that they had spoken about shooting the young but this is only hearsay, I don’t suppose we will ever really know. HEAT has decided to call the Hooper “Freedom” and they hope he survives, as Mistral seems to be so un-lucky with her mates.
I watched over Mistral, Freedom, and the young cygnets in the coming months. One of the cygnets was deformed, but seemed able to eat however, it did lag behind the others I spoke with Sue about that and although it was hard to watch it struggle it was obviously better to let it be with its family. Unfortunately the next day the little disabled cygnet disappeared, we wondered if it was as a result of the large pike that is in the bigger dike, as they had gone through to that area briefly. I looked everywhere, but there has been no sign of it. Mistral and Freedom have gone back to the Hammerton pond so perhaps they knew there is a large pike in the area and have decided to keep to the relatively safer pond. Throughout the months that followed, the remaining cygnets grew well I feed them every morning. Mistral came close to me with them, but Freedom always stayed at least ten feet away he has however, been a really good father to them all.
I have also had an RSPB friend have
a look at them and he has taken photos which were sent off to a Dr Reece,
but still none of us are really sure if they are Hybrids, which is what
they would be if they were from Freedom. Sometimes, when they were together,
one or two of them seemed to hold their head, neck and their mouth slightly
open in the same way as Freedom (the Hooper). Perhaps they are his,
only time would tell, but they also had a strong likeness to our native
breed the Mute (Mistral). We may never really know, unless there is
something that is quite distinct that will show up when they finally
reach adulthood and turn white.
Two of the cygnets have now left; one was seen swimming towards the Stour. The other three cygnets are still with the Hooper Swan (Freedom) on the yacht pond.