Swanfall after a slow start to 2020

Encouraged by the onset of winter conditions to their breeding grounds in Arctic Russia, the Bewick’s swans began their autumn migration back in September 2020 and have since been enjoying the warm comforts and plentiful feeding opportunities at wetlands across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Hence, it has been a somewhat slow start to the Bewick’s swan season at WWT Slimbridge. But finally, they have arrived.

Our first arrivals, regulars, Primero & Piquet arrived on 5th November having undertaken their epic 2,500km journey and since then there has been a slow trickle of individuals arriving back for the winter. Leaving work on the eve of Monday 30th November, Steve (our resident Bewick’s swan expert) counted 22 individuals on the Rushy Pen.

However, upon turning up to work the next morning to find bright winter skies and a frosty start, Steve was greeted by the familiar bugling noise, heralding the arrival of more Bewick’s to Slimbridge.

Bewick's swans Primero and Piquet
Primero and Piquet on the Rushy Pen. Image by K Fox.

The arrival of more birds at Slimbridge times nicely with an influx elsewhere along the flyway. Wim Tijsen, who coordinates the annual breeding season assessment across Europe, has been reporting newly arrived birds to the Netherlands during the last weekend of November. As we eagerly await the results of the 2020 breeding season, Wim has recently been in touch with the results of the 2019 assessment. Counts undertaken in nine countries across the wintering range show that Bewick’s swans experienced yet another poor breeding season in 2019, with 6.6% cygnets recorded. The 2020 assessment is to take place later in December and hopefully we'll be able to share more encouraging news.

Meanwhile, back to the Rushy Pen at Slimbridge. Steve has his work cut out as he begins the morning tally of which individuals have returned, as the swans busy themselves with their quarrels and disagreements to secure the best feeding spots of the lake. The tally is encouraging, and show that Slimbridge regular (and favourite of Slimbridge reserve warden Martin McGill), Maisie has returned with her partner Mayfeld and their first two cygnets! Currently they are the most dominant family on the lake and have secured the best of the feeding spots. As more birds arrive and hopefully more families too, we look forward to seeing how this young family fare over the coming months.

Bewick's swans Maisie and Mayfield
Maisie and Mayfeld with their first ever cygnets, at just over 3 months old, these cygnets have completed their first 2,500km migration! Image by S Heaven.

We will keep the Swan News blog up to date over the winter months with all the news from the Rushy Pen, but also with insights on other work we are carrying out on Bewick’s swans, such as the annual breeding success surveys and updates from the Swan Champions project.

For now, with the recent swanfall, we had better get to work in drawing and updating the bill patterns book, first started by Sir Peter Scott and his family at Slimbridge in 1963 and being continued by Steve to this day.

By Kane Brides (Research Officer, Species Science) & Steve Heaven (Research Assistant, Species Science)

For all things swan

We're regularly updating our swan diary this winter so you can stay up-to-date on everything the Research team is up to, from the heart of Slimbridge and all along the flyway.

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