STAINES-UPON-THAMES, England (AP) — The annual count of Queen Elizabeth II's mute swans has begun amid worries that dog attacks may have taken their toll on the monarch's waterfowl in the River Thames.
The queen is the traditional owner of unmarked mute swans, and royal custom requires they be counted each year in a colorful affair.
The tally began Monday when royal scarlet-clad Swan Uppers rowed up the River Thames outside London in a flotilla of wooden skiffs to count and examine cygnets, or young swans, for disease and injuries.
The group fears that a recent spate of fatal dog attacks may affect the final tally. In 2015, they only marked 83 cygnets, down from 120 the previous year.
"Hopefully this year we can go back up to round about 100," said the Queen's Swan Marker, David Barker. "Lots of attacks have been going on, so until we get through the week, we won't know."
Last year, a rise in vandals shooting swans with air riffles caused the number of royal swans to dwindle, Barker said.
The first day of the seven-day-long journey attracted visitors and residents to the riverbanks as the Swan Uppers honored the tradition that dates back to the 12th century. Back then, the young feathered creatures were considered a delicacy and served at royal banquets and feasts.
Kate Turner, one of the bystanders, cherishes the tradition and admires her queen and the royal family.
"She should have been in one of the boats, directing operations with a tiara on," Turner said laughing.
The Swan Uppers get their name from rowing up the river and upping the swans from the water. "Aaaaall up," they shout when a family of swans is located. The boats, with the royal cypher fluttering behind, surround the swans and the Swan Uppers capture them for the annual procedure.