Bewick's Swans' late arrival

Individual Bewick's Swans can be identified by the shape of the black and yellow pattern on their bills. Photo: Adrian Pingstone (commons.wikimedia.org).
Individual Bewick's Swans can be identified by the shape of the black and yellow pattern on their bills. Photo: Adrian Pingstone (commons.wikimedia.org).
The first of the winter's Bewick’s Swans has finally turned up at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), the latest arrival since 1969.

Arriving this Thursday, 6 November, the event is traditionally seen as signalling the start of winter and this year is around two weeks later than usual. Normally the small wild swans, which reliably migrate from Russia to Slimbridge each winter, make their first appearance in mid to late October. This year’s late mild weather and unfavourable wind directions dramatically delayed the arrival of the first birds. Finally a family of two adults and two cygnets touched down on Thursday morning.

Slimbridge swan expert Julia Newth said: “It’s the latest arrival date since 1969. It is no coincidence that their arrival has coincided with a change from the mild temperatures and south-westerly head winds that have dominated in recent weeks. We are excited to see that the first arrivals are a family because the swans desperately need more cygnets to bolster the dwindling population.

“Swan volunteer Steve Heaven quickly identified the adult pair from their distinctive bill patterns as regular Slimbridge visitors, named Nurton and Nusa. They are familiar with the reserve as they have spent the last five winters here. Their cygnets have now learnt the migration route from their parents, and we are hoping that they will also become regular fixtures here. At the daily Wild Bird Feeds at Slimbridge we really enjoy pointing out the swan families to visitors as they have such interesting histories and interactions on the lake.”

Nurton and Nusa have arrived with two cygnets in tow. Last week the WWT revealed that Bewick’s Swans have suffered an alarming crash in numbers with numbers down across Europe by about a third since 1995. The biggest concern is that the swans are not returning from their Russian breeding grounds with enough cygnets.

At Slimbridge, Bewick’s Swans are identified by their unique bill patterns. The WWT started using this method to study Bewick’s Swans exactly 50 years ago, when artist and naturalist Sir Peter Scott first recorded the facial markings of the Slimbridge swans. Today this work is one of the most intensive single-species studies in the world, and has recorded in detail the lives of nearly 10,000 individual swans and kickstarted the international effort to conserve them.
Soon many more Bewick’s are expected to arrive at Slimbridge, with peak numbers generally reaching over 300. Visitors to the reserve can see the swans at daily Wild Bird Feeds from a warm observatory at 4 pm. For more on swans visit www.wwt.org.uk/swans.


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