Friday, 6 January 2012

Winter And The Wild Swans

Wintertime on the flat, limitless fens. Dawn creeps over the bone-hard land, the sun bursts over the horizon like a raking searchlight beam, cutting across the featureless fields. The sparse hedgerows do nothing to impede the cruel, biting wind. Grasses and straggly bushes glisten with frost but the wide, peaty fields are black and lifeless. The few houses and trees are scattered distantly. Yet in that far distance is a horizontal slash of pure white light against the dark earth. 

Or else trudging along a raised riverbank in the thick mist - a distant bugling, perhaps the baying of a pack of foxhounds. A call like the winter wind itself, wild and untameable.

Whooper Swans at Welney
Both the white mirage on the black fen and that ghostly music coming through the mist announce the presence of the wild swans of winter. Whooper and Bewick Swans arriving from 
the high Arctic to winter here in East Anglia, feeding on the sugar-beet tops left on the fields and roosting on the flooded area known as the Ouse Washes. They also supplement their diet with grain provided by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust who along with the RSPB manage The Washes as a bird reserve. 

Part of the heated bird-observatory
(Most of the swans in this shot are Mute Swans which also enjoy a feed!)
The WWT site at Welney is provided with a large heated bird-observatory where visitors can watch the swans being fed both during the day and at evening floodlit feeds. A visitor centre and an excellent cafe are also part of the facility.

Although the Ouse Washes are important for wildfowl they are not primarily a bird reserve; their original purpose was to hold flood water during times of high rainfall and prevent widespread flooding on the rest of the fens. As a result water levels can fluctuate which is less than ideal for the birds - or the wardens who have the job of feeding the swans.....

Mute Swans feeding from the barrow
while Whoopers wait their turn
.......meanwhile an informative commentary is given to visitors. Amongst the amazing facts related was the fact that wild swans have been recorded flying at heights of over 20,000 feet. I'm hoping to make a visit to see the floodlit feed before the winter is out but just in case I don't manage to get there here are a few more photos.

Whooper Swans

Feeding in more normal conditions

 Take care.


  1. Here, I get to see tundra swans (and sometimes trumpeter swans) during migration, but they winter further south. It would be nice to have them around all winter, I think!

  2. The wardens at Welney certainly have their work cut out John!! As you know I have recently visited WWT Martin mere and there Whooper Swan feed is much!

    A super read and images John. I hope you manage a floodlit feed.

  3. I once spent an evening at Welney and the sight of the swans coming in to roost ranks as one of my lifetime peak experiences - one I intend to repeat before I die, I hope! It's like watching ballet.

  4. That middle photo is like a sailboat regatta in San Francisco Bay.

  5. What beautiful birds--and what a wet job to feed them. I like the way the birds line up, as if they were in a cafeteria line.

    We get a few swans here but usually they are migrating. It is a treat to see even one or two, but to see so many--what an amazing sight.

  6. This is a dream of a post for me, the last time I saw massed swans was in Iceland quite a few years ago. I love the shots where they look like an armada of yachts on the blue water.
    What a wonderful experience to be with so many wild birds!!!

  7. Nice post, John. Thanks. We spent part of today at a bird refuge near here. I'll have some photos up in a few days. Jim

  8. What a marvelous visit you must have had, - the swans are graceful and beautiful, but I love the Pochard.

  9. Such lovely photographs. I too like the little pochards (I've never seen one!). We have quite a few swans around here on the rivers and I love the sound of them flying overhead. Jane x

  10. Hello John. I saw your comment over on Adelaide and Beyond and thought I'd stop by. It's a delightful blog you have, full of wondrous things.

    Wish you could send some wild swans over here to Israel, but we don't have much water to put them on.
    Shalom and greetings from Jerusalem.

  11. That is a very dedicated warden! The swans are lovely, so elegant. The Pochard are like funny little commas in the water. So now that we know you can write really good descriptions, can we pressure you to write a book? We always need a good book to read.

  12. Another of your wonderful, fascinating posts, John. 20,000 feet? Amazing.

  13. Wonderful post. Great narrative. Love the final photo.

  14. Thanks for all your comments.
    A book, Jenny? Ye gods, i can hardly find time to write this blog!
    Apparently, Jack, they've been detected at 26,000 ft and seemed to cope with both the thin air and the extreme cold. Amazing indeed.
    Nice to hear from you, Dina, hope you'll visit again soon.

  15. What a marvellous sight this must be, It's quite a long way for me from both home and from my son's house on the Norfolk/Suffolk border but I shall have to see whether I can get there at some point. It would definitely be worth the efoort I think.

  16. Lovely, lovely winter visitors, and so many in flocks! They look like swan-yachts in the fifth image and the swans look starting ballet of The Swan lake in the seventh. I wonder which is Odette? When they fly in the sky, do they look like this?

    This year is the year of dragon, an auspicious, magical creature of spiritual import which moves freely in air and water combining yin and yang. I see a dragon flying in the first image.


  17. I've just enjoyed a wander through your last several posts. I tend to save them up for a needed 'fix' of great photos and commentary.
    We regularly saw a gathering of swans in Wyoming--they were cared for in a reserve area near Jackson Hole and were Trumpeter swans. Snall gatherings of them were sometimes spotted on our travels though Idaho as well.
    I can't access your full post on the Wicken Fen, but have to state that I feel notes taken by a keen observer on walks and wanders form the basis for some enduring books of 'nautre' essays.
    Even if they aren't made public in a big way, re-reading years later can jump-start many memories.


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