They travel 3,000 km from their arctic Russian breeding grounds to spend the winter in the relative warmth of the UK, but the 35 Bewick’s swans who have flown into WWT Slimbridge since the New Year have received a rather chillier welcome than usual!
With overnight temperatures dipping to -8 degrees and daytimes struggling to get above freezing, Slimbridge’s Swan lake has almost completely frozen over, leaving hundreds of wintering swans, ducks and geese sliding and skating across the ice for their daily feeds at the reserve.
WWT’s Julia Newth said: “The freezing conditions over the past week have encouraged the Bewick’s swans to pile into Slimbridge as they move further west in search of thawed conditions and more food. Swan lake looks absolutely amazing at the moment. Around 80% of it is frozen and so the swans are all sitting or sliding about the ice. It really looks like a winter wonderland! Needless to say, the afternoon feeds have been hugely popular with 160 hungry swans managing to slide across the ice to feed along the lake shore!
“The surrounding fields have remained frozen and so with limited grass on which to graze, the swans have been staying on the lake all day, providing excellent views from the comfort of our heated Peng Observatory! Bewick’s swans are not, of course, unused to such conditions with some arriving on breeding grounds in arctic Russia in late May, before the ice has thawed for the summer, but these current conditions are not what they would have expected to find here.”
Recent news from ornithologists in the Netherlands suggests that the icy weather is encouraging many swans to move to the south of the country so we are likely to see more arriving in the UK over the next few days.