Matthew Raifman, a Boston University doctoral student in environmental health, began scanning the Esplanade for the swans around 2 p.m. Thursday and spotted them near the playground, he said in an interview.
The swans were on the move, so the amateur photographer hopped on his bike and followed them to the lagoon, where they entered the water near the footbridge, Raifman said.
“I just popped over to the bridge and was standing there right above them, and I was able to shoot them from the top down, which was really cool,” said Raifman, 36, who lives in Brookline.
But he “had no idea that the father was going to be … carrying some of the swans on his back,” he said.
In Raifman’s photographs, three gray cygnets huddle together on the back of the adult swan, which raises its wings on either side to form a cradle. A fourth fuzzy cygnet follows in the water just behind the adult swan’s tail.
The cygnets were born about a week before their mother died Monday, the Esplanade Association said. A necropsy performed by the city’s veterinarian could not find a clear cause of death.
Boston Animal Control said it removed the mother swan from her nest “while the father swan sat at the nest with their cygnets tucked under his wings.”
Raifman said seeing the swan caring for the cygnets was moving, especially as the father of a 20-month-old.
“We’re all kind of looking for stories like this, that capture the trauma that we’ve all faced with COVID and the pandemic,” he said. “There’s this sorrow in the story with the mother swan passing, and then this uplifting moment here with the father kind of taking on the responsibilities and caring for the cygnets.”
When Raifman last saw the swans, they were still in the lagoon, “just kind of doing their own thing,” peacefully undisturbed by visitors to the Esplanade, he said.
“They were just cruising,” he said with a chuckle. “It was cool, they were just kind of moving through the lagoon and … continuing on towards Boston.”