Slideshow: Whooper swans return to Welney

AS dusk arrives over the Ouse Washes, one of the best natural spectacles in the UK starts to take place. It is feeding time for up to 9,000 swans, about 5,000 of which will make the 700-mile non-stop journey over the North Sea from their breeding ground

AS dusk arrives over the Ouse Washes, one of the best natural spectacles in the UK starts to take place.

It is feeding time for up to 9,000 swans, about 5,000 of which will make the 700-mile non-stop journey over the North Sea from their breeding ground in Iceland.

They are Whooper swans, named after the sound they make, and are amongst the heaviest migratory birds.

The first two arrived on September 26 at the Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve after spending half the year on Iceland.


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By the weekend more than 1,500 had arrived at the site, where at 3.30pm swan feeds attract hundreds of the majestic creatures in to a feeding ground.

By the end of November this number is expected to swell to between 4,000 and 5,000 Whooper swans at WWT Welney.

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Together with Bewick swans, there will be about 9,000 swans at Welney.

Julie Ward, centre manager, said: "It is a spectacular sight with the fantastic Welney sunset," she said.

"And it is building up every day. The best time is as it gets to dusk. They are all feeding on the arable land around the reserve and then they fly over."

Whooper Swans are amongst the heaviest of migratory birds, with adult males weighing around 10 kilos.

They are very site-faithful and it is common for them to return to the same wintering site year after year.

Seven Whooper swans have been fitted with satellite trackers for a special project called Super Whoopers, tracking the swans as they visit WWT centres, with Welney, Caerlaverock and Martin Mere being sites of international importance for the species.

One, named Gudjohnson, is known to winter at Welney, but unlike most of his brethren, he has yet to set off on his journey to the Ouse Washes.

"They are all very much on track at the moment except Gudjohnson," said Julie Ward, centre manager at Welney WWT.

"The theory is that due to climate change, it is still quite warm. They will not come down here until it is cold enough."

# The swan's progress can be followed using a satellite tracking map on the WWT website. Go to www.wwt.org.uk and click the link to the Super Whooper page.

# Swan feeds at every day at 3.30pm. From November 8 there will be floodlit night feeds from Thursday to Sunday at 6.30pm from the comfort of the observatory.

On November 17 and 18 there is a festival of swans with art and family activities to celebrate the return of the swans.

There will be willow workshops, a talk on Welney through the seasons, a folk band on the Sunday and a charity auction.

For more information contact 01353 860711.

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