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23 Oct 2017

It’s take-off!

Thousands of Bewick’s swans are making their way across Europe as they escape the arctic winter in Russia and search for warmer climes further west. This is part of an impressive annual migration which takes these intrepid adventurers 2,500 miles across eleven or so countries.

Photo by Colin Butters

Over the course of six to eight weeks, they will leap-frog from one feeding site to another, seeking out wetlands to rest and roost every night. This chain of wetlands offer a crucial life-line to the swans and millions of other waterbirds along the Northwest European flyway.

You may be wondering why such big-bodied birds make the extraordinary effort to travel such challenging distances. We don’t have the answer although the rich, aquatic vegetation found in tundra pools and rivers undoubtedly offers an irresistible summer home for the swans and their families. This is a home where food is plentiful and where they can nest and rear their young, relatively undisturbed. The swans would simply perish in an arctic winter where temperatures plummet to -50ºC and so their survival depends on their annual migration.

As the swans edge closer, a network of enthusiasts in Europe and Russia comes alive and buzzes with news of their whereabouts! At the end of September, Leho Luigujõe reported flocks flying into Estonia and managed to spot our transmitter swans Hope in Põgari-Sassi and Daisy Clarke in Jaagupi harbour. Both swans were apparently happily feeding in chara fields! More recently, Slimbridge swan Maisie was clocked at Kolga-Jaani polder and it appears she has one cygnet with her! You can join the journeys of four of our transmitter swans this autumn by using the interactive map here.

Ornithologist Wim Tijsen has reported that the Bewick’s have now ventured into the Netherlands, a mere 400 miles away from British shores…..

As Wim says, “the heat is on!”