Feeding time at Abbotsbury Swannery

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HONKING, hissing, gliding, swans are teeming with silver sunrays on the Fleet Lagoon. Masses of moorhens march on Chesil Beach.

M’colleague Stephen Banks showers scores of swans with birdseed.

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I’m lying down, getting covered in swan poo, trying to get the perfect shot of one stretching its wings, like an angel.

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We’re here for Watershed PR, to collect photos and information for Abbotsbury Swannery’s Facebook Page and Twitter account. (A tough job, but someone’s got to do it).

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The Swanherd rolls up with a barrow of seed, and leaves us to it.

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Mass feeding is an extraordinary sight. I’ve never been this close before. Seething beaks and backs and feathers jostle for food. Droplets glisten at beaks.

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Long necks curve and plunge head-first into the lagoon, like so many hunch-backed sea monsters.

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Some still sport the cygnets’ vestigial tawny plumage.

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A couple of black swans lurk at the back.

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A few daring birds waddle up to the barrow and trough straight from it, boldly.

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The Swannery won’t open to visitors until next month, but behind the scenes Spring slowly unfurls. Sticky buds cluster on bare branches. Emerald spikes of daffodils shoot skywards. Trunks, wrinkly with lichen, blink in the weak February light.

A wheelbarrow loiters near a small bonfire. The Swanherd clears scrub. Nearby are displayed sepia photos of swanherds through the ages – Gregory Gill (1879-1922) and Fred ‘Leckie’ Lexster (1950-1975).

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Swans have flocked to the Fleet Lagoon ever since the Benedictine monks at St Catherine’s Chapel started farming them in the 11th century. There’s a wonderful sense of timelessness here. Bliss.

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