First it was the weather and then I was under the weather and then it was a bit of both and then the wind got up for day after day and all in all it seemed a century since I was last paddling my kayak on the local river. But there I was at last, working my way through a sprightly headwind having heard a Cetti’s warbler and seen a dabchick and feeling most frightfully bucked to be moving the damn boat along the damn river.
And then I heard a strange noise, not one I was familiar with. It sounded like a cross between a trumpet and a kazoo, gliding up by about a major third and then then back down again, the whole thing lasting about a second. I was puzzling on this as I took the bend – and there before was my answer.
There were two swans, one making this soft brassy yodel to the other. This was intriguing because they were mute swans, and for the most part they are, indeed, pretty mute.
I paddled towards them, for they were in no itchin’ hurry, and the song continued: about every ten seconds another little burst of it. Normally swans stay put and watch me paddle by, merely giving me a dark look that makes it clear that I’m the one that would be buggering off if everyone was minding his manners.
But up they went, perhaps because another pair were flying past at that moment, or perhaps because they were feeling all skittish and spring-like and a flight together, in tight formation, was just exactly what they felt like. Off they went, the sound of their wings much louder than their voices ever were.
When I got back I turned to the nine-volume Birds of the Western Palearctic and looked up mute swan. The great work lists four types of call for this species; the second is “hoarse muted trumpeting by both sexes at times during post-copulatory ceremony”.
Well well well.