The largest Bewick’s swan family ever recorded at Slimbridge has flown in! We thought we were seeing double when Slimbridge regular Everton brought his new mate Rovers and their brood of six cygnets to the reserve! This huge family party of eight form an imposing force on Swan Lake. They have joined the 200 other Bewick’s at the afternoon grain feeds and are currently spending their days grazing on surrounding fields, re-fuelling after their 2,500 mile migration.
Bewick’s swans usually lay between one and six eggs on breeding grounds in arctic Russia but generally only up to four (and more often one or two) hatch and survive to reach wintering sites in Northwest Europe.
After laying the eggs in June this year, Rovers, who is female, will have incubated them for 29-30 days with some help from Everton. During this vulnerable time, both parents will have closely guarded the nest and protected their brood against predators such as Arctic foxes, wolverines, white-tailed eagles and skuas just to name a few. This would have been a perilous time for the family. Then would have come a period of rapid weight gain with the swans feeding day and night on the abundant wetlands vegetation and berries. When September arrived, the family escaped the arctic winter by embarking on their long journey to reach us.
So is this an early sign that the Bewick’s have had a good breeding season? Last weekend, observers across Europe braved the cold and headed out to the fields with one aim: to count the number of cygnets and the number of adult birds. Dutch ornithologists Jan Beekman and Wim Tijsen are currently collating the data which will ultimately reveal whether the population has bucked the trend of recent years and managed to successfully breed this year. Results to be announced soon…..