Bewick's Swans make early arrival at Slimbridge


The first Bewick's Swans arrived back at WWT Slimbridge today [18th October], heralding the start of winter — and may mean it could be even colder than the last.

Staff opening up the centre this morning saw the eight swans on the Rushy Lake at dawn. This is the earliest they have arrived since 2003, when they also arrived on the 18th. Two of the swans, a couple called Riso and Risa, are among these first returning Bewick's. Risa has been coming here for 13 years. They arrived with five yearlings, last year's juveniles, although these weren't named last year as their unique bill pattern, from which they are identified, takes time to form. The eighth bird to arrive back is still waiting to be identified.

Risa and Riso on the Rushy Lake, Slimbridge (Photo: James Lees)

According to folklore, if the Bewick's Swans arrive early then we could be in for a cold winter, so it might be time to dig out your hats and scarves. Last year the swans arrived almost two weeks later, but in larger numbers, so we wondered if snow was on the cards — and it did indeed turn out to be the coldest winter for 31 years.

James Lees, Slimbridge Reserve Warden, said: "They have flown 2,500 miles from their breeding grounds in Russia, so will probably rest for most of today. It has been widely reported in the news that forecasters have predicted it will be just as cold this winter as last and the early arrival of the Bewick's could support this, and could even mean we are in for an even colder winter this year. If nothing else they have brought the arctic weather with them as this week is set to be fairly chilly."

"Every year we look forward to the arrival of the Bewick's Swans and starting our public swan feeds towards the end of November. They are amazing birds to watch and it is fascinating studying their bill patterns and keeping track of the different families through generations."

Three of the new arrivals flying high this morning (Photo: James Lees)

Some interesting characters we are hoping to see return to Slimbridge again this year are:

  • Winterling — last winter equalled the record (with Casino) for the longest-lived swan to visit Slimbridge. If she returns this year, she will be 29 years old and the longest-lived Bewick's Swan to have visited the reserve, clocking up over 170,000 km of flying miles in her lifetime. She has been single for several years;
  • Croupier and mate Dealer — this couple are part of the famous gambling dynasty. Croupier is the son of Casino (who brought 32 cygnets back to Slimbridge during her long life) and continues the lineage today, having visited the reserve every year since he first arrived as a cygnet in 1991. Interestingly, Croupier closely associated with his mother for six years which is rather unusual: most birds become independent from their parents after a year. Croupier has been with Dealer since 1998;
  • Derek — surprised us all when he arrived alone last winter as he had not been seen since 1997. We do not know where he had been during the 12 'missing' years. Perhaps he had recently lost a partner who favoured another wintering haunt and had remembered to come back to Slimbridge;
  • Teapot and mate Teabag — firm favourites and Slimbridge regulars having spent every winter at Slimbridge together since 1996. They often have good breeding success and have brought 14 cygnets to the reserve over the years;
  • Sarindi and Sarind, Saruni and Sarune — the emergence of two new couples last winter after the infamous divorce between Sarindi and Sarune;
  • Crinkly — our infamous crooked-neck swan who failed to return to Slimbridge last year. Will he come back this year?
Written by: WWT