These creatures of the mist are whooper swans - cygnus cygnus - the Children of Lir, and winter visitors from Iceland and Scandinavia. I first saw them in Perthshire when I was eleven or so, when we walked across the hills to see them on Loch Moraig (you can see a photo of them on the loch here). It was a special day, and I fell in love with the romance of the swans on the water, and their wild wailing.
Last weekend, however, it was on a misty loch in the Scottish Borders that I took this picture. Sadly my camera battery was failing, and I was too slow to photograph the group that flew past mere yards away, just as I was too slow some days later when five flew past our kitchen window, honking mournfully. Nearby Berwick is famous for its huge wintering flock of mute swans, and I love to see them, but the whoopers are special, second only to unicorns. Fated to spend 900 years as swans, the Children of Lir were transformed by their stepmother Aoife, but were allowed to retain their human voices when she felt some remorse for her dreadful act:
And the Sons of the Gael used to be coming no less than the Men of Dea to hear them from every part of Ireland, for there never was any music or any delight heard in Ireland to compare with that music of the swans. And they used to be telling stories, and to be talking with men of Ireland every day, and with their teachers and their fellow-pupils and their friends. And every night they used to sing very sweet music of the Sidhe; and every one that heard that music would sleep sound and quiet whatever trouble or long sickness might be on him; for every one that heard the music of the birds, it is happy and contented he would be after it. (Lady Gregory, The Fate of the Children of Lir)