Nether Wallop Mill, Hampshire, England
3rd June 2014
Look away if you are squeamish. The chalkstreams are incredibly beautiful but scratch the surface and it's a pretty tough place to survive. Otters eat fish. Mink eat water voles. Owls eat field mice. Fish eat other fish. Bats consume 3000 insects a night. A heron just loves a frog. Kingfishers can dip for a minnow a minute for hours on end. I could go on but you get the picture. This being the natural world, albeit a very picturesque one, that is the nature of things but sometimes something happens that rams it all home.
Swans are famously aggressive. Tales of human broken arms abound, though I have never heard them substantiated but the truth is a rearing, hissing cob barring your path along the river to protect his cygnets is a pretty scary thing. Territorial they are and at certain times of the year I am sure we have all seen the turf wars as one swan drives away another, but last week at Broadlands Estate on the River Test it went to an extreme I have never seen. The angler that day takes up the story:
"The weather was more like early April rather than late May, however the Mayfly were emerging and a good few trout succumbed to our dry flies. Sharing the beat with us was a pair of swans. This pair was doing their usual act of always being in the way, having a hissing fit whenever you walked past and being in the river just where a decent fish was rising.
Midway through the afternoon we walking up the stretch when the male came charging upstream, followed by his partner. Looking upstream we could see another swan had entered the beat and was starting to feed on the ranunculus. The intruder kept feeding until the incumbent male got within around 10 yards, then turned around and charged into it. Rather like two stags a great fight broke out with flapping of wings and attacking each other with their beaks.
However the incumbent male was much stronger and was immediately on top of the intruder and griping its neck with his beak. It then started to beat the body of the intruder swan with its feet whilst repeatedly pushing its head under water. This went on for some minutes and the incumbent female joined in the attack too. Very soon the intruder swan seemed to give up and offered no resistance. The male incumbent swan kept its grip on the other swan's neck and kept holding the head under water even when it was clearly dead. All three drifted down stream with the two incumbents continuing to attack the dead swan until they came close to a low bridge and they finally left it alone. "
Over the years I have seen swans kill geese but never their own kind. It just goes to show how cruel nature can be sometimes.