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06 Nov 2017

Maisie’s epic migration

Posted in Blog posts

As winter closes over the Arctic tundra and the temperatures drop to well below freezing, a swan takes flight. Maisie is leaving her summer breeding ground late this year but with the cold now gently nudging her on her way she has no choice but to begin her long migration.

She begins her journey early in the morning. She flies for six hours and then stops for a rest on the tundra. At midnight she takes off again, this time her flight will be longer, but at 12 hours it is still a relatively short flight for the migrating swan. After a short rest, she takes off again on another 12-hour flight arriving on a lake south of Arkhangelsk shortly before midday.

Maisie has started her migration in a series of short flights rather than crossing the tundra in one long flight like many of the Bewick’s do. Still she covers 460km in less than three days, arriving south of Arkhangelsk by midday, two days after her journey began.

But with the freezing temperatures of the arctic chasing her over the wintry landscape, Maisie is now in a hurry and after a quick rest and refuel she takes off again just over 24 hours later. In her haste, she even bypasses one of her favourite feeding sites, Lake Ladoga.

As the cold wind ruffles her tail feathers, she knows she needs to get a move on and sticks to a very direct migration route. So direct that she flies straight over the city of St Petersburg.

She doesn’t stop until she reaches the (relatively) balmy shores of Lake Peipsi in Estonia, where for now she is safe from the perils of winter and can have a well-earned rest. The flight has been pretty epic – even by Bewick’s standards – she has covered 800km in a flight that has taken her 36 hours.

We have been tracking Maisie for several years now and we know that one of her favourite places is Lake Peipsi. So now she has landed safely here she makes the most of it and stays for over two weeks.

It is easy to see why she loves the lake. It is rich in the pondweed and stoneworts that the swans like to feed on and is the perfect place to recoup after the long flight from the arctic. Maisie has done some short stop-offs already, but for many swans this spot is their first stopping point after setting off on migration.

After feasting and resting, Maisie leaves Lake Peipsi a few weeks later and spends the next few days crossing Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. She arrives on Lake Holzendorf in Germany where she roosts on the lake at night and travels out to nearby fields to feed during the day.

On the next leg of her journey, she covers 440km in 12 hours to land on Lake Drontermeer, around 50km from Amsterdam. She seems keen to continue with her journey and the next day she flies over Amsterdam and spends a few hours bobbing about on the sea. But something changes her mind and she abandons her onward migration, heading back to the cosy lake, where she stays for another ten days before heading to Lake Veluwemeer in the Netherlands.

Lake Veluwemeer is another favourite spot for migrating Bewick’s. Rich in the aquatic vegetation they like to feed on, 4,000 birds were seen feeding on stoneworts in the lake. With the weather in the Netherlands mild for the time of year, Maisie can afford a nice long stop-off here.

After a week resting and feasting on Lake Veluwemeer, Maisie sets off fully fuelled for the final push. She flies throughout the night, crosses the North Sea and arrives in Norfolk at midnight. She stops off once during the flight.

After a well-deserved sleep and some time feeding, she takes to the skies again and arrives at WWT Slimbridge at lunchtime.

She has covered around 4,000km by the time she makes her final stop.