THERE ARE ELK AT OLD MOOR
Here at RSPB Old Moor we have a great big cob (male) MUTE SWAN. If he sees an interloper in his territory or a threat to his pen (female) and any young they have then he'll fluff up to his full size and make a great show of fake charging, just like a grizzly bear would. If that fails, then he'll go into full flappy attack mode. This is again similar to what a grizzly would do but he's whiter and not as sharp. He's still very impressive though and he takes no prisoners.
The only other swan that he'll tolerate on our mere is the dead one that's been slowly decomposing and providing food for our scavengers at the back of the main mere for the last month or so. Every little helps, as they say, and there's a lot of meat on a swan.
Our big boy definitely doesn't play well with others, which explains why he recently took umbridge at the sudden arrival of a small group of Icelandic holidaymakers.
Perhaps they were looking for somewhere to spend the winter. Maybe (and more likely) they were just taking a much-needed pit stop on their journey, like you or I dropping in to a motorway service station. A toilet break, grab a bite to eat, maybe a chat with your mates and then away again. If you substitute pond weed for a Gregg's sausage roll, these passing WHOOPER SWANS were doing exactly the same as I would do on a roadtrip.
Whooper swans were previously known as Hooper swan or Whistling swan. I can accept the change in spelling or description of the noise that they make, but back in the fourteenth century they were referred to by a much more unusual name. In the time of the Black Death ye olde plague survivors would know these white-winged wonders as 'Elk'. I have no idea why. Even Mr Google can't supply a reasonable explanation. There's a bit of a difference between these most graceful of birds and a massive lumbering moose. But this perhaps explains why a group of swans is still known as a herd.
Sadly there were only three. Old Moor can't supply its very own version of 'Swan Lake' at the moment with a full troupe of them standing on one leg. Then again the composer of that ballet, Tchaikovsky, was Russian, so it's quite possible that he never saw a Whooper. In his homeland he was much more likely to see Bewick swans. I wonder what our resident cob would make of one of those? I suspect that they'd be encouraged on their way, just as the Whoopers were. But we've had a few small visiting groups of them so far this year. Maybe the next lot will stay a little longer.
Apart from these elegant visitors, we've also been graced by the presence of an unseasonably late HOBBY this week. He should be in southern Africa by now, enjoying a tasty buffet of winged insects down there. Instead he's decided to stick around in sunny Barnsley for a while, presumably due to the number of (also unseasonably late) dragonflies that we've had in the area, particularly COMMON DARTERS. As we've seen all year, nature seems to be doing everything three or four weeks later in 2021 that we would normally expect. That's good for me though, because at this rate I don't think I'll finish my Christmas shopping until mid-January. Maybe my wife will get her slippers on time after all.
So that covers a couple of unexpected species that have been flying around the Dearne Valley this week. For a list of what else has been seen on the reserve, here's a shot of our sightings board...
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