EALAÍ

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When I moved to Dublin to study for my Masters degree, one of the salient memories of my first commutes into the city was the glimpse of a sea of white as my bus crossed the grand canal at Rathmines. That sea, it turned out, was a large gathering of mute swans, congregating near a popular feeding spot. They always looked spectacular in pink winter sunsets, especially when the cold had swelled their numbers, and I remember making a mental note to go visit them.

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In the end it took another 4 years until I managed to make my way to the canal with a lettuce and camera in tow, but finally, this Christmas, I did it. At first I was worried that Ireland’s largest waterbird would turn its nose up at my leafy offering (presumably being more used to bread), but happily, after a few shrewd stares, a little gang of them joined me by the water (later I’d find out that word had spread about giving waterbirds lettuce and seeds, and there was barely a crumb in sight ☺️). Watching them court, keep the cygnets in check and squabble over the leaves with a little gang of gulls was totally engrossing. It’s really difficult to appreciate how enormous they are until you’re that close- one particularly beefy male, with his implausibly long neck stretched out, would have almost come up to my shoulders.

Now I know swans have a bit of a reputation, and despite the good behaviour of the Dublin ones I’ll admit I’ve come across my fair share of pugnacious ones. I particularly remember a Scottish bird that took an intense dislike to our group as we were collecting data on dabbling ducks at Duddingston Loch- shooing him away while simultaneously timing the dives of mallards was, shall we say, challenging. Personally, however, I quite like that a bird that is sold as the very essence of elegance, with its snow white feathers and angel-like wings, has a little more attitude in real life.

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