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Widemouth arrives!

Widemouth arrives!

On this cold and frosty morning, we were delighted to see the return of Slimbridge regular Widemouth! Widemouth has wintered at Slimbridge every year since her first visit here in the 1999/2000 winter but she was ominously absent last year. Exactly where she spent last winter remains a mystery. She was last seen when her white ring (coded TUV) was read in Meggerdorf (Germany) on spring migration in March 2014. Widemouth in 2012 (Photo by Colin Butter) Widemouth was spotted today by swan volunteer Katie Oliver next to a sleeping adult and we are hoping that this bird will reveal itself to be her long-term mate Whitstone. Bewick’s swans are certainly creatures of habit and very site faithful - this characteristic was actually first recorded by Sir Peter Scott when he noticed that 16 of the 24 Bewick’s recorded on the reserve in the winter of 1964/65, also returned the following winter. It’s thought that the acquired knowledge of a good wintering site is very advantageous for the swans, allowing them to make use of prime feeding and roosting spots. However, sudden switches in wintering sites do occur and this can happen when a swan's mate prefers wintering elsewhere! Following a steady trickle of new arrivals over the Christmas period, 130 Bewick’s were recorded on the reserve today. With easterly winds forecasted and temperatures expected to plunge to -10C tonight in the Netherlands, we hope to see a few more of our feathered friends arriving over the coming days…..

Old faces

Old faces

Here at Slimbridge, we record each individual Bewick’s swan by its distinct black and yellow bill pattern as part of a long-term ecological study of the species which was initiated by WWT’s founder Sir Peter Scott more than 50 years ago. Bewick’s swans are very site faithful and it is rather special when you spot a returning swan. As Steve and I scan the lake every morning, we are always hoping to see a familiar face in the crowd. One of those faces is a swan called Riddler who has wintered on the reserve since first visiting as a cygnet with his parents in 1991! This month, he skimmed on to the lake and settled in for his 26th winter. Since being fitted with a uniquely coded ring (which reads YXU), we have been able to follow Riddler’s life as he has migrated between the Russian arctic and Gloucestershire. The swans and other migratory wildfowl rely on a chain of important wetland sites along their flyway for resting and re-fuelling on migration. Riddler is no exception, having been spotted at 47 of these sites over the years! Bewick's swan in flight (photo by Colin Butters) Recent mild weather has slowed the eastwards migration of Bewick’s swans to the UK with numbers slowly climbing to 1,218 on the Ouse Washes in Norfolk (recorded by WWT/RSPB on 5 December) and 114 at Slimbridge today. A total of 161 Bewick’s swans have visited Slimbridge so far this winter which is close to the five average (165 swans) for the reserve at this stage of the winter. There has been more movement on the continent with swans continuing to arrive at lakes on the Dutch-German border. More than 6,500 Bewick’s are now in this ‘borderlakes’ area according to Dutch ornithologists Martin Jansen and Wim Tijsen. Our very own ‘human swan’ Sacha Dench has also safely arrived back at Slimbridge just in time for Christmas following her 7,000km migration from the Russian arctic! See here for more news!

Old Reunions!

Old Reunions!

This weekend, hundreds of swan enthusiasts will be heading out to wetland sites and other swan hotspots across Europe to take part in an international age census of Bewick’s swans. Their main task, aside from trying to stay warm (!), will be to determine the number of cygnets and adults arriving at wintering sites in north-west Europe. This valuable information will enable us to assess whether or not the Northwest European population has had a good breeding season. Early indications from ornithologists in different countries (as reported by our human swan Sacha Dench) suggest that there are low numbers of cygnets in flocks this autumn so it will be interesting to see whether the census reveals this to be the case for the population as a whole. Annual assessments of breeding success and survival rates provide important data which can help us to explain population trends. Our most recent research suggests that there has been no sudden drop in cygnet numbers that could explain the worrying population decline in the Bewick’s swan. The count is co-ordinated by Dutch ornithologists Wim Tijsen and Jan Beekman. As temperatures have dropped, more swans have arrived with up to 90 attending the 4pm swan feeds at Slimbridge every day. This week Steve Heaven, our swan research assistant, has reported some nice reunions amongst our Bewick's at Slimbridge. Last year two well known swans, Kaji and Lucius Two, sadly arrived without their long-term mates but this year they have refound their mates and Kaji has arrived back with Ponting and Lucius Two is back with Aoki. Riddles and Riddler (by Jess Ponting) We were also pleased to see long term pair Riddler and Riddles reunited last night. When Riddler arrived at WWT Slimbridge a week ago without Riddles we were a little worried so we were pleased to see her arrive safely. Such temporary splits are a relatively rare occurrence. Where possible, Bewick’s swans tend to have strong long-term partnerships - our longest pairing recorded at Slimbridge was between a pair called Limonia and Laburnum who were together for 21 years! Fortunately, the swans tend to have great site fidelity and so pairs that are accidentally separated during migration are sometimes able to find each other again, whether it be at wintering, staging or breeding sites. Swans at Dohren, Germany Many more swans are on their way to the UK with up to 3,000 expected to arrive on the Ouse Washes and 300 at Slimbridge during the course of the winter. Thousands remain further east - 1,200 Bewick’s swans were recorded by the Flight of the Swans team and ornithologist Heiko Rebling at Dohren in Germany last week!

The swan season begins!

The swan season begins!

Our skies are once again filled with migrating swans heralding the start of winter! With snow and hard frosts creeping through the Baltic states, the Bewick’s swans are steadily making their way from the Russian arctic to warmer wintering sites in north-west Europe. Several thousand swans have now reached the Netherlands while 310 were recorded across the Ouse Washes during a co-ordinated count by WWT and the RSPB on Tuesday. It is here that the swans feed on a variety of waste crops throughout the winter, making it one of the most attractive and important wintering sites for the species in Europe. Croupier by Colin Butters There has also been great excitement at Slimbridge with the arrival of 64 Bewick’s since 3 November. We were very pleased to see the return of one of our oldest swans named Croupier who is now 25 years old! Croupier is a member of the long-running ‘Gambling Dynasty’ which was established in 1969 when his grandparents, Nijinsky and Caroline, were first recorded at Slimbridge by WWT’s founder, Sir Peter Scott, and his family. Bewick’s swans can be identified as individuals by their distinct black and yellow bill markings and this has been used as a research tool to explore the lives of more than 10,000 Bewick’s swans visiting Slimbridge since 1964! Croupier’s mother, Casino, was the longest-lived wild Bewick’s swan on record for many years, reaching a grand old 27 years in 1998. Her record has since been surpassed by Brimstone (29 years) and Winterling (28 years). Croupier flew into Slimbridge with Dealer, his partner of 19 years. During their time together they have reared and brought 28 cygnets back to Slimbridge. Although they are without cygnets this winter, our studies have found that breeding success usually increases with the number of years that a pair has been together. Over the years, they will have developed a close partnership to defend their territory and are likely to have accrued knowledge about good breeding and feeding sites. Of course we’re also eagerly awaiting the arrival of our very own ‘human swan’ this year. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, have a look at www.flightoftheswans.org  

Back to the breeding grounds

Back to the breeding grounds

                              The Bewick’s swans are on the move again! Over the last few days the birds have begun to undertake the long journey to their breeding grounds on the tundra in the far north of Russia, where they will arrive in May. Whilst we’re always sad to see the swans go, we’re already looking forward to this autumn, when we’ll welcome back many familiar faces along with a new generation of swans. Here at the WWT, since the 1960s we’ve been monitoring the numbers of young swans (known as ‘cygnets’, after the Latin word for ‘swan’) that arrive with their parents in the UK each winter. That valuable information has allowed us to better understand what factors make a good or bad breeding year for the swans. Sadly, the number of Bewick’s swans wintering in northwest Europe has fallen steadily from around 29,000 in 1995 to less than 18,000 today. So our need to understand the swans and their life cycle has never been greater. As part of the WWT’s Hope for Swans project, we set out to discover whether the decline in the Bewick’s swan population could be due to fewer cygnets being reared. The Arctic tundra of Russia where the Bewick’s swans breed has seen many changes since the WWT and it’s founder, Sir Peter Scott, first began studying the Bewick’s swan. Changes in Arctic weather, predators such as Arctic foxes and skuas, human developments linked to oil and gas, hunting, and a multitude of other factors have been suggested as possible issues that the breeding swans must overcome. With our colleagues at the Netherlands Institute for Ecology we used the WWT's long-term data on the numbers of cygnets that arrive on the wintering grounds around our centres across the UK to assess (i) whether breeding success had changed over time, and (ii) what factors influenced breeding success.                         In our study, which has been published recently in the Journal of Avian Biology, we found no evidence that breeding success had changed over time, but it did vary considerably between years. Between the winters of 1964/65 and 2014/15 an average of 15% of the Bewick’s swans seen were cygnets, with an average number of 2 cygnets per family. However, the percentage of the population that were cygnets varied between 3% in the worst years to 30% in the very best years. Despite the ongoing decrease in population size, the swan’s breeding success hasn’t shown the decline that many of us were expecting. We found that more Bewick's Swan cygnets arrived in the UK in years where the average summer temperatures on the Arctic breeding grounds were higher. Warmer weather improves the conditions for breeding swans, as harsh cold can freeze eggs and cygnets, and force tired, hungry adults to abandon their nests in search of food. The warmer weather also improves the growth of vegetation in the Arctic, meaning more food for the growing cygnets. We also found that more cygnets arrive in the UK in years in which fewer Arctic foxes were seen on the Russian breeding grounds. This was perhaps unsurprising, as Arctic foxes are a key predator of many birds in the Arctic and are known to eat eggs and cygnets, although a healthy adult swan themselves can usually fight off a fox. Bird predators such as skuas and buzzards didn't appear to have any effect on swan breeding success. We also found that the fewer swans there were in the population, the better the remaining swans bred, a pattern which scientists call ‘density-dependence’ (because swan breeding success depends on the density of swans in the breeding area). We see this pattern because too many swans leads to strong competition for food and nesting sites. This can lead to poorer breeding success as the swans 'get in each other's way'. Finally, we also found that breeding success was better in years when there were more 'experienced' pairs in the population. By this, we mean that birds that had been paired together for longer tended to arrive in the UK with more cygnets per winter. For the Bewick’s swan, which has a long, hazardous migration and only a short time to breed before the Arctic winter arrives, gaining experience of co-operating with a partner really pays off. Our study has given us a much better idea of what makes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ breeding conditions for the swans. Our research suggests that there has been no sudden drop in cygnet numbers that could explain the worrying population decline in the Bewick’s swan. So whilst the Bewick’s swans may be leaving Slimbridge and our other centres for now, we’ll be busy with the rest of our Hope for Swans project. At the WWT we’ll be working with other researchers across the Bewick’s swan flyway to understand the factors that influence how many Bewick’s swans survive each year, and to identify the threats that the swans face. The exciting Flight of the Swans project this autumn will bring together people from across the Bewick’s swan flyway to discuss the issues that these swans face, and how we can tackle them. You can keep up to date with the very latest information on all of the WWT’s conservation work by following us on Twitter. Kevin Wood, Eileen Rees, Geoff Hilton & Julia Newth

Spring migration begins and love is in the air!

Spring migration begins and love is in the air!

The Bewick’s swans have begun their long migration back to the Russian arctic! The lengthening daylight hours have signalled the start of the migratory period and small numbers of swans have been making the most of the south-westerly winds to kick-start their journey. At Slimbridge, numbers have dropped from 139 swans recorded on Sunday to 118 today and many of the others are showing signs of pre-migratory behaviour. This generally involves a lot of sitting around or ‘loafing’, probably a strategy for saving energy in preparation for their long flight ahead. We have also been afforded the wonderful spectacle of ‘practice’ flights where the swans have been stretching their wings and flying around the reserve in large groups, honking away as they pass. Three of our transmitter swans have also begun moving east with Zolotitsa travelling from the Ouse Washes to Denmark and Pola and Hope now in Germany. It’s only a matter of days before the rest of the UK wintering flock are behind them! Pazazz and Pazz (C. Butters)                             We are also very pleased to report that one of our long-time singletons, Pazazz, flew into Slimbridge last month with her first mate, a bird named Paz! Pazazz has been visiting Slimbridge since 2002 and is now 14 years old. Our long-term study of more than 4,000 pairs has found that Bewick’s swans usually form partnerships from the age of 3. Bewick’s swans have great loyalties to each other and usually pair for life where they can. The longest known partnership of wild Bewick’s swans was between two swans called Limonia and Laburnum who visited Slimbridge together for 21 years! We hope that Pazazz and Paz follow suit!

Some familiar faces!

Some familiar faces!

Bewick’s swans are very faithful to their wintering sites, so much so, that half of the swans that visit us at Slimbridge every year have been here before. Since the 1950s, the reserve has been managed to attract and accommodate thousands of tired waterbirds at the end of their long migrations. WWT’s founder Sir Peter Scott established a roosting lake (known as the Rushy) and pastures that are still sought after by hundreds of swans today.                             Every winter, we are able to identify each visiting swan by its unique black and yellow bill pattern. Each has its own record and is promptly named if not recognised from previous winters. Returning swans can be monitored over their lifetimes and over the years, the information gathered has shed light on the ecological parameters needed for their survival. There has never been a greater need for our Bewick’s swan conservation work - the NW European Bewick’s swan was recently re-classified as Endangered in Europe. From a personal perspective, every autumn brings with it anticipation of who may arrive and with whom! As the researchers who monitor the individual swans that return year after year, it’s hard not to become attached! No one knows the swans better than long-term volunteer Steve Heaven who has been watching the swans and recording valuable information for 18 years now and has studied many generations of the same families. Riddles (L) and Riddler (R) (J. Ponting)                                 We’ve certainly not been short of familiar faces and characters this year! We were relieved to see the return of some particularly old birds. Riddler is back at the grand old age of 24 with mate of eight years Riddles. As a creature of habit, Riddler can often be seen after every feed preening on the large island in front of the Peng Observatory. He sports a yellow leg ring (with the code YXU) which has been spotted in Estonia, Germany and the Netherlands on migration to and from Slimbridge over the years. Croupier (C. Butters)                                               The Gambling Dynasty continues to be a regular presence with the arrival of Croupier (also 24 years old) and mate Dealer and their three cygnets this winter. Croupier first visited Slimbridge in 1991 with parents Casino and Punter. This family stretch back to 1969 when Croupier’s grandparents, Nijinsky and Caroline, were first recorded at Slimbridge by the Scott family. Croupier’s mother, Casino, was the longest-lived wild Bewick’s swan on record for many years, reaching a grand old 27 years in 1998. Her record has since been surpassed by Brimstone (29 years) and Winterling (28 years).   Croupier and Dealer have brought 29 cygnets back to the reserve over the years and many of them continue to visit and bring back their own families. At the moment, Wager and Stakes are here with two cygnets and Croupie is here with mate Wheel. We look forward to welcoming many more generations of The Gamblers to Slimbridge!

A little note from the Russian arctic

A little note from the Russian arctic

The Bewick’s swans have been steadily arriving at UK wintering sites with 1,009 now enjoying the Ouse Washes in Norfolk and up to 87 attending the daily swan feeds at Slimbridge.   The swans are currently travelling from Russia to Europe in efforts to escape the harsh arctic winter, some 2,500 miles away. The Russian tundra is positioned in the high north and in the summer time hosts millions of breeding waterbirds including three populations of Bewick’s swan. WWT’s Dr Eileen Rees and I were fortunate to experience this unique environment ourselves last week as we ventured up to Salekhard, a small town lying on the arctic circle.   It soon became clear why the swans had left some weeks earlier. We encountered temperatures of -16ºC although we were told by the locals that this was unusually ‘warm’ and we were ‘lucky’ that it wasn’t the normal -30 ºC! The tundra was a white blanket with several feet of snow and ice covering grasses, berries and other plants utilized by the swans during the summer months. Only the reindeer were able to scrape away the snow with their hooves to nibble on the lichen underneath. For this reason, many local people survive on the tundra during the winter by nomadically herding their reindeer from place to place. It was a privilege to meet some of the local people and gain a deeper understanding of how they interact and co-exist with the arctic environment.                               The 'Waterfowl of Northern Eurasia' conference we attended in Salekhard shone a torch on the many threats facing this fragile ecosystem. Local communities in the arctic are now very much feeling the brunt of climatic changes and it seemed timely that our trip coincided with COP21, key climate talks in Paris which set out to tackle these very issues. Destruction of habitat and illegal poaching were highlighted as serious threats to numerous species of waterbird and steps to resolve these were deliberated and discussed. These issues are particularly relevant for the Endangered Northwest European population of Bewick’s swan whose numbers have halved since the mid-1990s.   WWT and Dutch colleagues from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology are working to unravel the key causes of this decline. We are also working hard to reduce the illegal shooting of swans and other waterbirds with the help and valuable knowledge of communities from the Russian arctic.

The strange adventures of Leho!

The strange adventures of Leho!

Ever since Leho was caught and fitted with a transmitter in Norfolk last winter, we have been carefully following his long journeys to and from the Russian arctic. Up until now, his autumn migration had taken him on a rather typical route through the Baltic states, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. We were very excited when we saw Leho poised for the Channel crossing and he became the first transmitter swan of the winter to finally reach British shores. But it turned out his stay was short-lived! His mini-tour of south-east England took him to the River Medway, Walland Marshes in Kent and then to Dengie National Nature Reserve on the east coast. To our surprise he then flew back out to sea, arriving on the beach at Dunkirk six hours later. It wasn’t long before Leho was back in the Netherlands where he has remained ever since. In fact, he has been spotted with a flock of 43 swans in north Friesland by Dutch ornithologist Wim Tijsen. The reasons for Leho’s return journey to the continent remains a mystery. Occasionally swans undertake a ‘reverse migration’ when weather conditions deteriorate but this usually happens on spring migration when they come face to face with bitter conditions further east. Perhaps Leho has lost a mate on his way and has returned to look for her. I suppose we may never know but we are certainly intrigued about where his journey takes him next...... The mild weather has temporarily stalled migration, although many Bewick’s have now arrived in Germany and the Netherlands with over 2,750 now on Lake Veluwemeer (W. Tijsen). We are looking forward to a cool north-easterly breeze which will nudge them across the sea to join the 12 currently at Slimbridge and the 40 or so at Welney.

First arrival at Slimbridge breaks new record!

First arrival at Slimbridge breaks new record!

The first Bewick’s swan flew into Slimbridge yesterday, breaking the record for the earliest arrival date since WWT’s swan study began in 1963! © Steve Heaven / WWT The swan, which has been named Record Breaker, is a yearling and is likely to have visited last year as a cygnet as it seems very familiar with the reserve and has arrived alone, without the guidance of a regular visitor. Record Breaker has now beaten Tomato and Ketchup who had, until yesterday, held the earliest arrival record of 12 October in 1980. The swans, which are migrating from the Russian arctic, have been spurred on by unusually cold weather sweeping parts of western Russia and eastern Europe. Temperatures are 5-10ºC below average and as the low pressure moves north, snow is forecasted for Poland and other eastern European countries (Met Office/ITV weather). Low temperatures, snowfall and north easterly winds create the perfect cocktail for encouraging the swans to press on with their westwards migration to Europe where they will spend the winter months. Although day length dictates the broad migratory period for migration, our studies have shown that weather is highly influential in determining precise timings of movements with wind direction being a particularly critical factor. Numbers are also rising in the Netherlands with 45 recorded on Lake Gooimeer and 80 on Lake Lauwersmeer in recent days (Wim Tijsen) in what is building up to be Europe’s annual winter spectacular with more than 16,000 swans arriving over the next few weeks. El Niño is underway in the tropical Pacific which has led to speculation that we are in for a long, bitter winter. Although this is currently too early to predict with confidence, winter has certainly kicked off earlier than usual in many countries and the swans are ahead of the game. After all, in Russia, there is an old saying, “the swan brings snow on its bill”....

First Bewick’s touch down in the Netherlands

First Bewick’s touch down in the Netherlands

The Bewick’s swans have started their epic migration from arctic Russia to north-west Europe with the first two birds already arriving in the Netherlands close to Lake Veluwemeer (Wim Tijsen/Nel Bekema)! We are especially excited to hear from seven of our swans caught and fitted with satellite transmitters at Slimbridge and the Ouse Washes over the last couple of winters. Over the last few days, six have started to move south and flown back into signal range allowing us to track their migration and back-fill information about where they spent the summer. It’s great to see that they are making very good progress! Eileen (BEWI11 - dark pink track), Daisy Clarke (BEWI19 - green track) and Charlotte (BEWI22 - pale green track) have reached the southern shores of Lake Peipsi in Estonia, a key stopping off site for the Bewick’s as they travel 3,000km to reach wintering grounds. You may remember that we visited Lake Peipsi with the BBC Autumnwatch team last year to understand why this area draws nearly the entire Northwest European population in spring and substantial numbers in the autumn. You can read more about our adventure here Slimbridge swan Maisie (BEWI03 - pale pink track), is ahead of the game and has already arrived on the western coast of Estonia after a brief detour to Latvia. In fact, Maisie flew from Oneg in Russia (just south of the arctic circle) to Latvia in just 18 hours! This is a journey that would ordinarily take us around 23 hours by car, in a less direct route rather than as the swan flies of course! Hope (BEWI09 - orange track), the star of our previous swan appeal, flew onto Lake Ladoga in Russia just yesterday while Beabrooks (BEWI13 - blue track) has decided to take a more northerly route via Finland! We eagerly await their next movements as they edge ever closer to the UK!

From Russia with love

From Russia with love

After eight long weeks of travel, our transmitter swans are finally arriving at their destination: the Russian arctic, some 2,500 miles away! This vast swathe of tundra stretches across the entire north coast of Russia and is one of the world’s greatest wetlands. Arctic Russian tundra (WWT) During the summer months, it is home to tens of thousands of migratory birds arriving from different corners of the globe. Here, they find respite in relative solitude in a habitat that is abundant with food and nesting opportunities. For the Bewick’s swans, the arctic tundra represents a vital part of their annual cycle, providing unlimited day light hours to feed on sedges, grasses, larvae, berries and other aquatic vegetation. Newly hatched cygnets are able to gain weight quickly in preparation for their journey back to Northwest Europe in September. In Russia, the arrival of the Bewick’s swan heralds a change in seasons and signals that summer is just around the corner. Our transmitter swans not only bridge the seasons but also the communities that they fly through. As we followed the swans through Europe, school children in Germany and Poland took the opportunity to name two of the transmitter swans Leo and Pola and accompanied naming ceremonies with trips to the countryside to see the birds. Enthusiastic ornithologists from the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Poland have spent many hours finding our swans in the field, sending us reassuring photographs and field notes. We are very thankful to all of these people who have shared the swans’ journeys with us. Our ‘swan network’ across the migratory route certainly seems to have expanded over the last few months and all have been linked by the same common love for the Bewick’s swan. And this enthusiasm has continued right the way to the arctic! We were delighted to see that BEWI25 was the first to arrive in the Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug, a key breeding area for the swans. WWT has a special connection with the swans Russian breeding grounds and collaborative Anglo-Russian studies in this area in the 1990s led towards its protective designation. BEWI25’s arrival prompted the search for a name which generated a huge response among the workers and visitors of the Nenetskiy National Nature Reserve. More than 70 local people suggested a name for BEWI25 which resulted in a short-list of 40 names! The competition was kindly facilitated by reserve staff Yulia Leonova and Yulia Bogomolova and the final name was picked at random and turned out to be....Julia! The three Russian Julia’s! (Yulia Leonova) We all look forward to following Julia’s progress and her return journey back to Northwest Europe in the autumn. A little further west, children from the Onezhsky Sledopyt Club (a naturalists club) and staff from the Onezhskoe Pomoryae National Park on the shores of the White Sea in northern Russia, have chosen to name BEWI20 Zolotitsa after their local village. Children from the Onezhsky Sledopyt Club (Andrey Volkov) The White Sea is a critically important staging area for the Bewick’s swans in the spring so we were especially happy that this local community were involved in naming the swan. Zolotitsa is travelling with one cygnet and his partner, a swan called Martina, named by school children in the St Petersburg area. Many thanks to Andrey Volkov, staff from the Onezhskoe Pomoryae National Park, Eugene Genelt-Yanovsky and Julia Danilova for facilitating the naming of Zolotitsa and Martina.

Leho's adventure around Eastern Europe!

Leho's adventure around Eastern Europe!

Last week, Leho Luigujoe from the Estonian University of Life Sciences, set off on a road trip across Estonia and Latvia to track down some of our transmitter birds. He had huge success, spotting five of our birds on his travels and we were very pleased to hear that they all looked well! It was very reassuring to see that Charlotte, Butters and Wim (in Latvia) and Beabrooks and Leho (in Estonia) had each found a suitable habitat to use and Leho snapped them feeding on a range of winter crops and cereal stubble. He also had the opportunity to check out their roost sites which they have been flying to every evening after a day feeding in the fields. These are usually small pools no more than 30 km away from their feeding sites, where the birds feel safe. We named a swan after Leho in tribute to his extensive work on Bewick’s swan conservation which has culminated in the recent development of an Estonian Action Plan for the species. The Action Plan aims to preserve at least 30 staging sites on coastal waters, freshwater lakes, flood plains and in agricultural areas. Together, these sites will provide food and safe roosting for 80% of the total population during migration. This is a huge step towards the conservation of a species that has suffered around a 40% decline since 1995. As co-ordinators of the International Bewick’s Swan Action Plan, WWT are working closely with colleagues across the flyway to halt the decline and assist a population recovery. Since Leho’s visit, the birds have continued their journey. Charlotte has now reached Lake Ladoga in Russia, via Lake Peipsi, a key staging site for the Bewick’s in Estonia. Beabrooks has also made it across the Russian border, Butters has jumped from Latvia to Estonia while Wim and Leho have stayed where they are. During May, we expect the swans to make good progress through Russia before arriving on their breeding grounds in the arctic at the beginning of June....

Our swans reach Russia!

Our swans reach Russia!

Six of our transmitter swans have reached Russia and are now more than half way into their journey to the arctic! Daisy Clarke, Hope and pair BEWI17 and BEWI20 have all settled around Lake Ladoga, Andres remains on Lake Ilmen while Pola has reached another lake a little further east. It will now be a case of sitting out any poor weather and making the most of good, clear conditions to press onwards. The swans have to be very opportunistic as weather conditions can change very quickly as they move north. The beauty of the tracking technology is the detailed information we are able to gather about the swans phenomenal journey. We are learning something new every day, whether it be a surprising detour, an unusual stopping off site or an unlikely meeting. We have been closely watching the routes of Andres and Daisy Clarke who were caught in different winters and at different sites on the Ouse Washes in Norfolk. As far as we know, they are unrelated and embarked on very different paths with Daisy taking a more northerly route via Denmark and Sweden and Andres taking a more traditional route through the Baltic states. Cold weather seemingly encouraged Daisy to leave Estonia and head back to Latvia where she spent time in the vicinity of Andres. Both birds then flew independently to Lake Peipsi which straddles the Estonian and Russian border, intriguingly arriving at similar times. As we were pondering whether this series of events constituted a coincidence or represented a developing ‘friendship’, Andres and Daisy then took off for their next leg, again independently, and again, arriving at a spot on Lake Ilmen in Russia very close to one another. This morning they separated again as Daisy headed for Lake Ladoga, leaving Andres behind. I wonder where and when this unlikely pair will meet again?  

School children name transmitter swan in Germany

School children name transmitter swan in Germany

Image courtesy of Christiane Herrmann As I write, thousands of Bewick’s swans are making their way across Europe en route to the Russian Arctic. This 2,500 mile journey is a remarkable feat of endurance, particularly for such a big bodied bird, and is surely enough to capture anyone’s imagination. Their flight takes them across stretches of ocean and a number of countries. The swans, of course, are more likely to differentiate between different habitats than different national boundaries. As they fly, they are unknowingly bringing together communities along their migration route, from the UK to Russia. Perhaps it’s their grace and elegance, perhaps they are enshrined in local folklore and traditional song or perhaps their arrival and departure signals the start and end of a season or a phase of weather. Interest may be sparked by concern for their dwindling numbers or by stories of their loyalties to one another and certain places. Whatever the reason, the Bewick’s swan holds a special place in many peoples hearts and are duly celebrated. We have been following the progress of our migrating transmitter swans in recent weeks and have been heartened by the interest that their individual journeys has generated. Enthusiasts have helped us to spot these swans in fields across Europe and check that they are in good health. So far this spring, our swans have been seen in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia! We hope to bring you some first-hand accounts from these swan spotters over the coming weeks. One of the highlights for me last week was to hear that BEWI01, the first swan that we caught in the UK this winter, had been named Leo by a pre-school class of children from Beringstedt in Germany. The opportunity was taken to host a swan event around the naming ceremony which was organised by Stefan Rathgeber and facilitated by Stefan Wolff. The children made a swan sign before taking a short drive to the area where Leo had been roosting. The children then sang the folk song "Alle Vögel sind schon da", Stefan Rathgeber spoke to them about the biology and migration route of the Bewick’s and they then received a special certificate. The children performed another song which rounded off a lovely and memorable event. As the swans edge closer to Russia, we are looking forward to working with more schools and communities across their migration route to raise awareness about this remarkable intrepid traveller!