In the first of a series of articles celebrating the swans that reside on the lakes of Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats, Tracey Adebowale-Jones explains her love for these graceful birds.
After some years of being captivated by and photographing the swans of Wanstead Park, I was walking one day around the Heronry Pond when I spotted a very forlorn-looking swan sitting in the reeds of a muddy, shallow estuary. I was struck by its sadness, condition and reluctance to come over to me for food (unusual for most swans).
After that first encounter, I started to take bread and seed, eventually coaxing it across the water so she would eat. Each day I went at the same time and each day she began to wait on the bank, but she seemed unable to preen, remaining dirty and unkempt and thin. I happened to see a friend who was carrying bags of bird food and I expressed my concern to her. Immediately, she told me about Gill Walker, who rescues swans and other birds and takes them to The Swan Sanctuary in Shepperton, Middlesex for care, healing and, hopefully, a return to the water. I contacted Gill and a day or so later, my swan was carried off in an Ikea bag (just the right size) to the sanctuary, where she remains to this day.
Since that swan encounter, I have become an avid swan watcher. Still taking photographs, but now much more aware of their behaviour and needs. Learning all the time about them, and wanting to impart everything I have learnt, I have begun to develop a network of swan watchers in the park so that we can all keep them safe.
Swans are vulnerable to uncontrolled dogs, foxes, abandoned fishing line and floats, and when very small, the cygnets can be carried away by hungry crows or terrapins that lurk in the waters. Their nests are sometimes ransacked by humans who smash the eggs, and we believe our swan population in the park last year was depleted because of this cruelty.
We have four lakes in the park and usually, there is an adult pair on three of them – one greedy pair takes two lakes as their own and often you will see a territorial of great drama when another pair attempts to intrude. Already this year, we have been able to rescue a juvenile from the Shoulder of Mutton Pond who was driven off by an adult pair.
Through our growing network, we are able to tell each other when we have concerns about a swan’s health or safety, and we thank the many people of Wanstead who share a love for these birds for their support in looking after our beloved swans.