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The Nest of Swans at the End of the Boardwalk

Mill Pond’s resident swans welcome several cygnets.

For the past month, a lone male swan (cob) patrolled the far end of . If a goose came near, the cob unfolded its wings, extended its neck and smacked its feet on the surface of the water as it darted toward its perceived enemy. Somewhat grumpily, he tolerated a few ducks and a come-and-go blue heron. Muskrats, turtles and other under-the-radar creatures were allowed to pass.

When I first observed the cob’s behavior, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Then, thanks to Brighton resident Doug Peterson, I learned that a female swan (pen) nested among the reeds near . Peterson maintains a blog, Words4It, that chronicles all things .  

He has been recording events at for close to two years. In addition to gorgeous photographs, the blog offers facts and educated opinions about the flora and fauna of .

Since reading Peterson’s post about the swans’ nest, I’ve been walking to the far end of the boardwalk whenever I get a chance. My son gets a kick out of the cob. He’s big and white, which is an exciting and noticeable change from the smaller, more camouflaged geese and ducks that frequent the near end of .

He’s too young to spot the pen on her nest among the reeds. But, for me, seeing her is a treat. It’s a moment out of all the day’s shared moments that I can have completely to myself.

As neither of us had ever seen a baby swan (cygnet), I’d also been hoping to share a new experience with my son. We were able to do so on the last day of May.

Expecting to see only the alert cob, I was stunned to see both him and the pen through the trees as I came upon the far end of . I slowed and pushed my son’s stroller up to an opening in the trees and quickly noticed four cygnets.

As I squatted to gauge my son’s reaction—he pointed, smiled, babbled baby talk—the herd closed in on us. Because the cob had been so aggressive previously, I backed away a bit. He and the pen allowed the cygnets to come within feet of us, though, so I realized that they trusted us and were actually hoping to be fed.

We didn’t have anything to offer, so the swans soon drifted away. As the herd began to disappear behind the foliage, my son said, “Bye,” his one perfectly enunciated—even if elongated—word.

It was another beautiful walk along Mill Pond Park’s boardwalk, and we’ll be going back as often as possible to watch the cygnets grow. Unfortunately, they grow quickly and die easily.

My son and I witnessed four cygnets on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Peterson photographed five cygnets on Memorial Day.

 “The babies are often devoured by the turtles and large fish,” Peterson said.

He also noted that there were no new swans at last year. The year before last, one swan was raised to adulthood.

In other words, this year is somewhat special. Next time you’re in the area, take the time to make the trek to the far end of the boardwalk. Witnessing the curious white fluff balls and their doting parents is totally worth it.

Note: As signage at Mill Pond Park indicates, the waterfowl should not be fed. Doing so interrupts the habitat and instincts in many ways. If you must break this reasonable rule, please resist the urge to feed the waterfowl bread, popcorn, pasta and other seemingly appropriate snacks. Instead, opt for Wildernest’s inexpensive bags of duck chow.

karen stamper June 06, 2011 at 03:06 AM
I don't want to put a damper on a beautiful story, but if these guys fly away in the winter and end up on state land, they will be killed by our Department of Natural Resources by being shot in the head. This is an organization that we, the general public, have entrusted to take care of our wildlife. They claim that the mute swans (the ones with the orange beak) are a non-native, invasive species that is devouring all the sub aquatic vegetation in our lakes and they must be destroyed; and although they have no Michigan based scientific studies, they believe it is ok to use studies from Maryland, which has not one natural lake. Michigan has over 11,000 according to the DNR website. This past February, the Natural Resource Commission voted to no longer allow injured mute swans to be rehabilitated. They can take them in, but they will have to be euthanized immediately. This sounds like animal cruelty in the worst way. To help fight for our mute swans, please go to change.org and search "mute swan" and sign the petition. You can also call the DNR Director, Rodney Stokes, in Lansing, and your local State Representative, as well as the Governor. For some reason many of the television news stations do not want to address this issue.
ASteinberg June 07, 2011 at 10:10 PM
The lies and damage propogated against this species defies all logic. The DNR has been systematically and secretly killing off Mute swans everywhere. Since there have never been more than MAYBE 20,000 swans in the entire United States at their peak (and most of them have been killed off in the last 6 years since they have been removed of Migratory Bird protected status) Michigan's number of 11,000 is highly suspect. The Mute swan is beng killed in order to supplant its habitat with the Trumper swan to shore up declining hunting by making the Trumpeter the next trophy bird (largest North American waterfowl). The hunting lobby used Congressman Wayne Gilchrist of Maryland as their dupe for political favors. Maryland blamed the swans for the ruination of their Chesapeake Bay. There were only 3,000 swans on the Chesapeake, while 2.5 million or so other birds annually migrated through it, not to mention the REAL cuprits - pig and chicken farm run-off, paper company dumping, shoreline development, even phosphorous bomb testing in the 1920's. 3,000 swans weren't harming anything. Thanks to Gilchrist and his burying an amendment in the 2005 Federal Budget that no one knew about, removing protection from 100 birds (exclusively to get at the swans), the swans death warrant was signed. This was done because there was not one shred of evidence proving the swans caused any damage in any way; no NEPA was ever done. The only way to take down the Mute swan was to change the law.
Tina DeBord June 10, 2011 at 11:07 PM
Wow. I had no idea anything like this was going on. Thanks for sharing. If other mute swan families are anything like the one a Mill Pond, then they've already got a rough time trying to survive. Of the 5 cygnets that hatched at the end of May, only 2 remain.
DougPete July 01, 2011 at 10:41 PM
Thanks for the mention of my blog, Tina. Too bad your young son isn't a night owl. I've been photographing a family of raccoons with FIVE kits (babies) lately. They are near the north end of the millpond well after sundown. Another raccoon family is near the cemetery. I've seen two kits there along with their mom. Someone told me there are more, but I haven't seen them. Some baby muskrats are roaming the area, too, but you'll have to spend time hunting for them. It's difficult to see the little guys. Doug Peterson http://www.Words4It.com

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