Sunday, 24 February 2013

Whooper Swans

A pair of Whooper Swans have been gracing a field just down the road for over a week now. These are rare visitors to Berkshire, one was recorded in the County in 2012, one in 2010 and two in 2009. Winter visitors from their breeding grounds in the Arctic north, Whooper swans normally congregate in sizeable numbers at wetland sites like Slimbridge (Gloucestershire) and Welney (Norfolk) each winter but this pair have stopped-off in a field of oil seed rape in Lower Padworth and they seem to rather like it.  I took a record shot on my Samsung digital (they were a long way off).

A heavily cropped shot gives a blurry picture but you can see the distinctive yellow and black bill pattern - the yellow coming down to a point. (By comparison, the Bewick's Swan has a smaller and more rounded area of yellow on its black bill and our native Mute Swan has an orange and black bill, with a black nob on top, just in case anybody was wondering)

As a teenager, I spent many hours as a voluntary warden at Welney Wildfowl Trust reserve in Norfolk, a 6 mile bike ride from Littleport, where I spent the first 21 years of my life. Many hundreds of Whooper and Bewick's Swans would over-winter there (they still do but in smaller numbers) and I loved watching them come in off the fields at dusk to eat the grain put out for them by the warden, my childhood hero, Josh Scott. The birds were so accustomed to him that he could walk along the flood-lit water's edge with a wheelbarrow full of grain and these completely wild arctic birds would gather round and eat. 

When I last visited the reserve in 2008, I was dismayed to learn that the number of Whoopers and Bewick's has declined somewhat since my time there in the seventies and that the two species no longer mingle and feed together as they used to. It is still a spectacular sight and worth a visit on a winter's day to watch the swans' feeding time at dusk.

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