Blue Is The Colour

Jane and I had a brief amble at Ormsgill Reservoir during my Barrow birthday bash yesterday. The Mute Swans were almost all obligingly lined up along the railway embankment side and I looked through them for the bird from Yorkshire sporting a yellow Darvic ring which has been here for several months.

There was no sign of the Tyke, but there was a new blue ringed bird. I sent the details to topically named Steve Christmas who kindly responded very quickly. The bird sporting ring 4BTC was banded on the Glasson Branch of the Lancaster Canal at Thurnham Mill in August 2015. Not sure where he has been in the meantime but a reasonably interesting movement.

4BTC and perhaps his mate, yesterday in Barrow

There’s nothing like a birthday to get you thinking about the passing of time, but I was still rather astonished to realise that I have been involved with recording ringed swans in Cumbria and Lancashire for three decades. When I was still living in Dalton-in-Furness I became heavily involved with the embryonic North West Swan Study Group reporting breeding pairs, checking the moult flock at Cavendish Dock in Barrow and sometimes going on the ringing exercises.

The main driver of the project in the early days was Wes Holton, a countryside ranger from Bolton who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. I kept in touch with Wes over the years with ringing recoveries, and whilst my enthusiasm waxed and waned at at times I have continued to report birds to the project and its successors to this day.

In the early 1990s birds from Cheshire were blue beginning with 2, Lancashire started with 4 and Cumbria with 6. A separate Cheshire swan study began and they have used green rings ever since. I have read on their blog today that David Cookson who has been the lynchpin of the project is standing down, and the final report of the group will come out early in the New Year. As far as I know birds ringed in Cumbria and Lancashire come out of the same sequence now, starting with a 4.

Obviously 30 years is a long time and much changes. The moult flock that used Cavendish Dock ran into serious problems when the weed in the dock was cut and the birds, having shed their flight feathers, couldn’t quickly relocated. The large gathering, particularly in winter, at Fleetwood Marine Lake was decimated by being fed beans that were toxic for them and barely any use this site now either. Where there are large assemblies bird flu has often been an issue in a number or recent winters, and there has sadly been a heavy toll this winter at Stanley Park in Blackpool and Acre Dell Pools in Cheshire.

It’s a misconception that Mute Swans are largely resident. They can wander quite widely, and also undertake movements to safe areas for moulting. Sea crossings are not necessarily an issue, and birds from the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland have turned up locally. Sometime birds taken into care can be released away from the area they were found but generally ringed birds that turn up out of area have made it under their own steam. The Yorkshire bird which has been on vacation in Barrow was marked under the auspices of the swan hospital, but as a cygnet in a Sheffield park so presumably wasn’t in care at any point.

A Yorkshire lass in Barra

It’s a challenging time for Cygnus Olor locally, but as I’ve said above they’ve bounced back before and hopefully will do again. Having people in their corner who monitor them and look out for their welfare makes me cautiously optimistic that numbers will recover. On my local park in Blackpool well wishers are funding grain supplies whilst the park lake is out of bounds due to avian flu, an example of the close bond we have with our Mute Swan population.

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