Dedicated to my mom, who is my best friend and confidante. Happy Mother’s Day!!
As regular readers of my blog know, I’ve been stopping by Lake Morton periodically to monitor the nesting of the resident Mute Swans. My friend Kim at the lake knows how much I love to photograph the cygnets (baby swans), so she promised to let me know when they started to hatch. One morning I decided to sleep in (very unusual for a nature photographer in the spring!) When I rolled out of bed at 8am, I had this email waiting for me…
Baby!! Where you park! Sunday morn 6:30!
Rich said I had a very determined look on my face. By 8:15, I was pulling out of the driveway! :) I had no idea that I was in store for one of the most exciting days of photography in my life…
When I got to Lake Morton, Kim and her friends Linda and Rob were at a nest tucked into a group of tall grasses. A newborn cygnet would occasionally peek out at us. Mom continued to incubate her remaining eggs. The grassy nest was cool and the cygnet was adorable, but it wasn’t all that great for photographs. Then Linda and Rob decided to check out the other nest that had hatched that morning. Jackpot! It was a beautiful nest out in the open, and three tiny cygnets were sleeping under Mom.
According to my friends, two of the cygnets at this nest had hatched this morning. One was still all wet from being in his egg. Mom pretty much kept her babies underneath her, only occasionally standing up. I’m not sure if she wanted to give them some air or stretch her legs – probably both! When she did stand up, she gave us a wonderful opportunity to see one of the fluffy cygnets sleeping next to his newborn brother, next to the pieces of his eggshell.
Mute Swans build their big nests of reeds and grasses. They lay between four and eight eggs. The parents take turn incubating the eggs for 35 to 38 days. That’s a long time to sit still! The swans are known to be aggressive, but the birds at Lake Morton have become very used to people. Some of my friends are at the lake every evening to say hello to the birds and feed them. It’s obvious that the birds know my friends, and the swans weren’t bothered by us. I was also glad that the City of Lakeland roped off the nests this year, to keep kids and dogs at a distance. Papa Swan certainly told any passing dogs to stay away!
My favorite shots were of the cygnets as they cuddled under Mom’s wing. I quickly learned to recognize which swans were on eggs and which had cygnets – the ones on eggs kept their wings tucked up tight, and the ones with cygnets fluffed their wings out a bit for the babies to sleep underneath. The next image shows the back of Mom with her wings fluffed out. Look closely under the left wing and you’ll see a sleeping cygnet. Then look at the next image, which zooms in on the babies and reveals a sweet surprise…a second baby is cuddled under there!
I put an extension tube on my Beast lens, which let me focus full-frame on the babies. I started to make some really nice images of the cygnets as they stuck their heads out, interacted with Mom, and even wobbled out to the edge of the nest before collapsing for a nap. My friends got worried about the “wobbly one,” who slept soundly by himself while his brothers continued cuddling under Mom. But he was fine – he was probably the oldest, and he didn’t need Mom’s warmth as much as his younger siblings did.
It was great meeting other swans fans, like Barb and Gil. Lots of passersby also stopped to look, and the kids especially loved seeing the baby swans. The sun was high in the sky, but I hardly noticed, as the shade from the tree overhead kept my light even. This next image was one of my favorites from the day, showing a cygnet sticking his head up over Mom’s feathers. Her lacy white feathers remind me of puffy clouds and comfort, just what a little baby feels when cuddled up close to mom.
Some moments were just plain funny, like when this baby seemed to discover his foot. It’s big! And it has little nails on it! Wait until he discovers the water and realizes he was born knowing how to swim – those big feet will certainly help!
As the smallest cygnet dried off, he wiggled his way out from underneath Mom. Then he started to pose with his brother. I hoped they would do a nose-to-nose moment for my camera, but they didn’t. They did give me a cute shot as they both shook their heads while preening. Then they started to fall asleep — hey, it’s exhausting to be born! You have to poke your way through that egg and squeeze and poke yourself through the hole until you find a whole big world out there! The babies huddle together for body warmth, and their nap pose was just adorable…
Perhaps some of the best moments of the day were when Mom and Baby had nose-to-nose moments, like the one below. For such a big bird, the swan mother is very gentle. It was a privilege to be there to witness these tiny miracles!
Finally just before sunset I had to tear myself away and drive home. My very patient and understanding husband knew I’d been at the lake all day – and shall I emphasize the words all day!?!? He thought I was crazy. Then I showed him a few of my pictures. He thought they were cute, but he still thinks I’m crazy! But Kim and Barb and Linda and Rob know better. We had a wonderful day, one I won’t ever forget. I hope your Mother’s Day is just as great!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Lake Morton?
Check out my Lake Morton page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!