First Whooper swans return for winter at Welney

AUTUMN has arrived in the shape of the first whooper swans which have glided into the Fens over the last few days.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) site at Welney will be home to thousands of migrating swans over the winter and the advance party has already started arriving.

The birds will be welcome company for Romeo and Julietta who have remained at Welney to successfully raise a youngster.

The pair of whoopers failed to migrate to Iceland earlier this year because Julietta was injured, probably by hitting overhead power lines, and was unable to make the 1,200 mile journey.

In an act of rare devotion, Romeo stayed with her and the pair initially hatched two offspring, although one was lost to predators at an early stage. But the surviving cygnet can be seen on the wetland grasses at the WWT reserve.

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Every year thousands of wild whooper and Bewick’s swans spend the winter in the Fens. Up to 9,000 will use the wetlands on the Ouse washes and 1,000 acres can be found at the WWT reserve, the largest swan roost in the country.

The first group of nine are adult swans and appear to be a group of non-breeding individuals. None of them carry leg rings and are not known at the reserve.

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The migrants’ journey includes a 700-mile ocean crossing over the North Atlantic which they can complete in as little as 12 hours and 40 minutes - maintaining a speed of more than 55mph for nearly 13 hours.

The Bewick’s swans have further to fly - 2,500 miles from their breeding areas in arctic Russia and as a result, the first of them will not arrive in the Fens until late October.

Staff and volunteers at WWT Welney are now looking out for the arrival of some familiar characters in the coming weeks.

They are hoping to see Baldur and his partner who were both ringed at Welney in 2008. The pair of swans has brought 19 cygnets to the reserve over the past three years. Baldur’s leg ring code is U5B and his partner can be identified by her own leg ring – U5S.

The Fens are a favourite wintering spot for whooper and Bewick’s swans due to the combination of safe roost sites on wetlands and plentiful food available in the form of waste sugar beet tops and waste potatoes left over from the harvest.

The swans spend their days feeding up on these carbohydrate-rich foods in the fenland fields and sleeping on the wetlands in preparation for the return to their breeding grounds next spring.

“The reserve is looking fantastic at the moment, thanks to favourable conditions over the summer and the recent arrival of hundreds of duck from their northern breeding areas,” said reserve manager, Leigh Marshall.

“The first swans are always very exciting and really signal the start of autumn here at Welney. We look forward to seeing numbers increasing steadily over the next month, ready for the first swan feeds in October.”

The arrival of the swans signals the start of the Winter at Welney celebrations which will run throughout the stay of the swans into March 2012. Events include photography, willow and art workshops, children’s activities, and festivals.

For more information see or phone 01353 860711.

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