Whooper swans land early in Scotland


Whooper Swans in flight (c) Dominic-Heard

Staff and volunteers at two Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) sites in the UK have been surprised by the early arrival of Whooper Swans this year.

The first Whooper swans of the season have arrived at Welney WWT centre, Norfolk, and at Caerlaverock WWT centre, Scotland.

The record-breaking early arrivals are thought to have caught the northerly tail winds from Iceland, combined with the tempestuous weather conditions that have caused disruption with Hurricane Katia across Britain.

Nine Whooper swans glided onto the lagoon at Welney, Norfolk with eight touching down in Caerlaverock, Scotland on the same day, heralding the arrival of Autumn.

The Welney arrivals will be a welcome sight to the now famous whooper swan couple Romeo and Julietta and their cygnet, who surprised conservationists and romanced the public by their devotion, staying behind to breed in the UK this year as Julietta was too injured for her to fly back to Iceland.

Eileen Rees, Head of UK Waterbird Conservation Programme said: “The early arrivals are mainly due to swans taking advantage of northerly tail winds from Iceland, combined with the low weather system which has been causing the storm-force winds in Britain.

“Last weekend there was snow in the highlands of Iceland and this, along with the tail winds, may have encouraged swans from those areas to leave for the wintering grounds, despite it not being particularly cold in southern Iceland”.

Last year, the swans arrived on 19 September, with this year’s first swans beating them to the post by four days. This also follows on from the news that the first 500 pink-footed geese have also arrived at the Martin Mere WWT reserve, Lancashire, also returning from their summer breeding grounds in Iceland

Weather can have a dramatic impact on migratory birds, as recent storms have also brought unexpected visitors such as Manx shearwaters and Arctic skuas to reserves across the UK, that were blown off course travelling south.



Every year thousands of wild Whooper swans spend the winter in the UK. Up to 9,000 will reside in the wetlands on the Ouse washes, of which 1,000 acres can be found at Welney WWT centre, making it the largest swan roost in the country.

This first group have made their journey to Welney and Caerlaverock successfully and can now rest and start to recover the energy lost by feeding on the aquatic plants around the lagoons. The reserve at Martin Mere WWT centre in Lancashire, awaits their first flock of whooper swans, which will be expected shortly.

These incredible migrants will have just completed a 1,200 mile journey from their breeding grounds in Iceland. This includes an astounding 700 mile ocean crossing over the North Atlantic, which they can complete in as little as 12 hours and 40 minutes.

That is a speed of over 55 miles per hour for nearly 13 hours, so it’s little wonder the Whoopers take advantage of tail winds blowing in their direction.

Recent observations of Whooper swans made throughout the summer suggest that 2011 has been a poor breeding year for the birds.

This could be due to very adverse conditions in the Spring in Iceland, where they were breeding under the shadow of the ash cloud from Iceland’s latest Volcanic eruption – the Grimsvotn volcano beneath the Vatnajökull ice cap which was even larger than the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010.

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